Professional Judgment Policy and Procedures

Overview of Professional Judgment

On a case-by-case basis and consistent with federal guidelines, Mt. San Antonio College’s Financial Aid Office may consider a student’s special circumstances to either increase or decrease data elements used to calculate a student’s expected family contribution (EFC) for educational expenses, or to add expenses to a student’s budgeted cost of attendance. These adjustments affect only need-based aid. They are permitted because the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) does not afford the opportunity to provide details about any special circumstances that could impact a family/student’s ability to pay costs associated with a program of study. The Financial Aid Office is expected and required to make reasonable decisions that support the intent of the federal guidelines regarding professional judgment. Mt. San Antonio College is held accountable for all professional judgment decisions made, and for fully documenting each decision. The decision of the Financial Aid Office is both discretionary and final; there is no appeal process to the U.S. Department of Education. This policy sets forth guidelines regarding how professional judgment in financial aid will be exercised at Mt. San Antonio College.

When Professional Judgment Cannot Be Exercised

Professional judgment cannot be exercised to:

  • circumvent the law or regulations;
  • waive general student eligibility requirements;
  • change a student’s status from independent to dependent;
  • adjust the EFC directly;
  • alter the need analysis formula or change table values; or
  • create a new category in the cost of attendance.

Requirement of valid and verified FAFSA

In order to process subsequent changes to the student’s FAFSA information for a Budget Increase or a Change of Income, Mt. SAC must have one valid transaction of the student’s Student Aid Report (SAR/report generated by the Department of Education after valid submission of the FAFSA) for the appropriate aid year. Please file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid according to the instructions provided by the Department of Education. Your special circumstances will be considered only after the Financial Aid office has a valid SAR. If financial aid file is selected for the process of verification, the student/family must complete this process before consideration of professional judgment. Please note that the only professional judgment request that does not require an initial valid FAFSA is a Change in Dependency. Students are recommended to come to the Financial Aid Office to speak to a Financial Aid Specialist if student believes they have mitigating circumstance for Dependency Change consideration. Please see section “Change of Dependency Request Form” for additional details.

Special Circumstances

Special circumstances are ones that differentiate the student’s finances from those of other students. The applicable forms to request professional judgment consideration are available from the Financial Aid web page (http://www.mtsac.edu/financialaid/forms.html). The forms include a more complete explanation of special circumstances and the required supplemental documents. Exercise of professional judgment is neither limited to nor required for the situations mentioned.

Appropriate Forms to Submit with examples of special circumstances

Listed below are the appropriate forms to use with the particular examples of special circumstances to illustrate the types of circumstances that may merit professional judgment adjustments.

Change of Dependency Request Form

  • Change in dependency status, from dependent to independent, is a consideration for a student who do not meet any of the following criterion:
    • Is age 24 or older
    • Is a Veteran of the U.S. armed forces
    • Is married or separated, but not divorced
    • Has and supports children/dependents with more than half of their support
    • Has deceased parents, been in foster care or was a ward or dependent of the court any time since turning age 13
    • Is an emancipated minor or in a legal guardianship determined by a court
    • Is an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless
    • Is currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for the purposes other than training
    • Is working on a graduate degree (Master’s or Doctorate)

                      AND

  • The student is experiencing mitigating circumstance such as:
    • Abandonment by parents
    • In an abusive family environment that threatens the student’s health or safety
    • Is unable to locate parents

NOTE: The following situations do NOT constitute as mitigating circumstances for the purpose of change in dependency for financial aid:

  • Parent/s refusing to contribute to the student’s college education
  • Parent/s unwilling to provide information on the FAFSA or for the completion of the Verification process
  • Parent/s do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes
  • Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency (other than at-risk of being homeless)

Budget Increase Request Form

  • Unusually high dependent-care costs due to student being in class or at a school-related activity;
  • One-time laptop purchase during enrollment at Mt. SAC;
  • Unusually high medical or dental expenses not covered by insurance.

Change of Income Request Form  –  Dependent OR Independent

  • Changes in a family’s reported income due to:
  • Death or disability of a wage earner;
  • Divorce;
  • Unemployment of a family member or anticipated drop in family income;
  • Termination of a child-support agreement;
  • Wage-earner’s occupation has fluctuating income;
  • Wage earner is called to active duty in the armed forces;
  • One-time taxable income such as unusual capital gains; proceeds from a sale of a farm or business assets, if the sales resulted from a voluntary or involuntary foreclosure, forfeiture, or bankruptcy or an involuntary liquidation; conversion of traditional IRA to Roth IRA; or early distribution of IRA or retirement plans.

NOTE: The following items do NOT constitute as special circumstances for the purpose of budget increase or change of income for financial aid:

  • Parent/s refusing to contribute to the student’s college education
  • Vacation expenses;
  • Tithing expenses;
  • Standard living expenses (e.g., utilities, credit card expenses, children’s allowances, etc.);
  • Mortgage payments;
  • Car payments;
  • Lawn care;
  • Credit-card or other personal debt problems;
  • All other discretionary expenses.

Requesting a Professional Judgment Review

If a student or prospective student believes he or she has a situation that would qualify as a special circumstance that may lead to a professional judgment, the student/family should come into the Financial Aid Office and consult with a Financial Aid Specialist. The Financial Aid office is located in building 9B, Student Services on the 2nd floor.

The Financial Aid Specialist will inform student/family if their situation meets one of the special circumstances and merit professional judgment consideration. In many cases, professional judgment adjustments to the FAFSA do not result in significant changes to the EFC, and therefore do not change a student’s financial aid award.

After reviewing the situation with the student/family, the Financial Aid Specialist will determine whether the adjustment, if granted, will impact a student’s financial aid eligibility before making the recommendation for the student/family to follow through with the formal professional judgment request process. If deemed to merit professional judgment consideration, the Financial Aid Specialist will also review with the student/family the required information/supplemental documents and processing timeline.

After completion of the appropriate form, the student/family should submit the signed form, along with all supporting documents establishing the special circumstances to the Financial Aid Office. Professional judgment requests are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis. The Financial Aid office will issue a written decision through the financial aid student portal, and, if approved, process any changes within four weeks.

Impact of an Adjustment Following a Professional Judgment Review

  • Cost of attendance: If an increase to a student’s cost of attendance budget is approved, the student’s budget in Banner will be adjusted accordingly. Then, student can request additional funding through the Direct Loan program. It is the department’s policy to scan and electronically store all submitted documents; the student’s financial aid file is maintained electronically and noted in Banner.
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC): If an adjustment to the student’s EFC is approved and results in an increase in financial aid eligibility, then adjustment/s will be made to the student’s FAFSA. When the student’s corrected FAFSA returns, the student’s financial aid award will be adjusted accordingly.

Storage of Documents for Professional Judgment Consideration

It is the department’s policy to scan and electronically store all submitted documents, including documents for professional judgment consideration; the student’s financial aid file is maintained electronically and noted in Banner.