03.26.18

SCHUMER: JUST-ANNOUNCED FEDERAL SPENDING BILL INCLUDES AMENDMENT TO REVERSE DEPT. OF EDUCATION POLICY THAT PUT MILLIONS OF DOLLARS DESTINED FOR BUFFALO AND SYRACUSE STUDENTS IN LIMBO; SAY YES SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM CAN NOW ACCESS THE INFO THEY NEED TO MAKE PAYMENTS ON TIME

Recent Changes to the Department of Education’s Guidance Prohibited FAFSA Data From Being Released To Private Scholarship Providers Like Buffalo/Syracuse ‘Say Yes’ Chapters 

Senator Says ‘Say Yes’ Provides Millions Of Dollars In Scholarships For Upstate New York’s Students Every Year, Including Thousands of Students in Buffalo and Syracuse

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today announced the reversal of a harmful U.S. Department of Education policy that is preventing Say Yes – which helps thousands of Syracuse and Buffalo students go to college – from accessing a critical student financial aid data. A recent change to the Department of Education’s Guidance limited access to data from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to Say Yes. Students and Say Yes officials feared their scholarship payments could be delayed, leading to steep late fees, or worse, delayed enrollment for failing to pay their full tuition. Schumer said thousands of students in Upstate New York rely on scholarship money from Says Yes to cover school expenses and that Say Yes calculates the amount of funding a student receives using FAFSA data.

"Getting into college is no easy feat. But over the years, Say Yes chapters in Buffalo and Syracuse have helped transform the lives of thousands of city school students by helping them attain and afford a college degree, and navigate the complicated financial aid process. The reversal of this harmful policy will allow vital scholarship organizations like Say Yes to access the financial data they need to provide the financial aid that thousands of students depend on,” said Senator Schumer. “I am pleased that Congress in cooperation with the Department of Education heeded my call and reversed this harmful policy so our students can focus on their education and their future.”

Previously, by the Department of Education’s guidance prohibits the release of data from FAFSA to private scholarship providers, even with the student’s authorization. The Higher Education Act did allow the Secretary to designate certain entities to be authorized to use data from FAFSA to award aid, which was extended to just two private scholarship providers—the United Negro College Fund and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Schumer called on the Department of Education to extend this status to a broader group of private scholarship providers to ensure that students in New York State and beyond are able to optimize the use of private scholarships and minimize scholarship displacement over their course of study. Today, Schumer announced that Section 313 in Division H, Title III of the omnibus spending bill provides that an institution of higher learning, with the consent of the applicant, may provide FAFSA information as necessary to a scholarship granting organization.

Schumer explained many students in Western and Central New York often rely on outside scholarships from private organizations and foundations to fill the gap between the total cost of college and the federal, state, and institutional financial aid they may receive. Among its many college access initiatives, Say Yes makes “the last dollar” tuition scholarships available to students who qualify based on income. Before the new guidance was released in September, Say Yes and similar scholarship providers had been able to work with institutions to get the necessary data, such as demonstrated financial need, expected family contribution, and award amounts to calculate the “last dollar” contribution. This coordination streamlined the process for students and families. The ban forced students to obtain their own financial aid data from the school and send it individually to any outside entity that would use it to award them additional financial aid. The reversal of this guidance will allow for a streamlined process for students and organizations.

According to Say Yes, the organization has arranged more than $41 million in college scholarships and have been instrumental in recruitment and retention of college students in the cities of Syracuse and Buffalo. The first Say Yes city-wide chapter was piloted in Syracuse, beginning in 2009 and the second followed four years later, in Buffalo. These two Say Yes chapters have awarded nearly $18.9 million in direct, postsecondary scholarships and helped send over 7,800 students off to college, most since 2013. Since 2009, the Syracuse Say Yes has helped more than 3,800 Syracuse City School District (SCSD) graduates attend college – increasing SCSD’s college attendance rate by over 33 percent.

Schumer has always been an advocate for increasing access to a college education. Just this month Schumer joined students at Onondaga Community College to talk to Say Yes students and to double down on his push. Schumer said today’s announcement will help thousands of students in New York State fund their college education and lauded the Department of Education for heeding his calls.

A copy of Schumer’s original letter appears below:

Secretary Betsy DeVos

U.S. Department of Education

Dear Secretary DeVos:

I am writing to urge you to extend the status of designated entities authorized to use data from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to award aid to a broader group of organizations that provide private scholarship funding for postsecondary study such as Say Yes to Education which is based in New York. The Department of Education’s new guidance that prohibits the release of data from FAFSA to private scholarship providers, even with the student’s authorization, has created a yet another hurdle students must overcome while trying to finance their college education.

As you know, students often rely on outside scholarships from private organizations and foundations to fill the gap between the total cost of college and the federal, state, and institutional financial aid they may receive. Among its many college access initiatives, Say Yes makes “last dollar” tuition scholarships available to students who qualify based on income. Before the new guidance was released in September, Say Yes and similar scholarship providers have been able to work with institutions to get the necessary data such as demonstrated financial need, expected family contribution, and award amounts to calculate the “last dollar” contribution. This coordination streamlined the process for students and families. As a result, since 2009, Say Yes has awarded $18.9 million in direct, postsecondary scholarships, supporting 7,800 students from New York. Since the ban has been instituted, students must now obtain their own financial aid data from the school and send it individually to any outside entity that would use it to award them additional financial aid.

This reinterpretation of existing law upended long-standing guidance and practice with little notice for students, institutions, and scholarship providers, and has already caused confusion and for some scholarship payments to be delayed. For instance, Say Yes Syracuse and Say Yes Buffalo have had to reach out to the thousands of college students they support through scholarships to explain the new process, and help students retrieve the necessary paperwork from their school and then send it to the organization. Without access to all the necessary FAFSA information in a systematic and efficient manner, these “last dollar” scholarship payments for the spring semester were delayed, in some cases not arriving until after the payments were due. This could have disrupted the education of many. Is this not the very type of bureaucracy you came to Washington, DC to fix?

Section 483(a)(3)(E) of the Higher Education Act provides that the Secretary may designate certain entities to be authorized to use data from the FAFSA to award aid in addition to institutions. It is my understanding that this status is currently granted to only two private scholarship providers—the United Negro College Fund and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. I strongly urge you to extend this status to a broader group of private scholarship providers to ensure that students are able to optimize the use of private scholarships and minimize scholarship displacement over their course of study.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

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