How is FAFSA's Prior-Prior Year Impacting DePaul?

​Last year, the U.S. Department of Education announced that students would be able to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) starting in October 2016 instead of January 2017 for the 2017-2018 academic year. This earlier date is based on the directive to use tax data from the prior-prior year—two years back instead of one—or PPY, as it’s commonly called. Many institutions predicted that this move would dramatically impact financial aid and admission processes.

At DePaul, EMM’s offices of Financial Aid (OFA) and Undergraduate Admission have been ahead of the curve responding to this change. Adjusting priority deadlines and timelines accordingly, they communicated all pertinent information to students and families before Oct. 1, including the anticipated change in Illinois’ MAP eligibility cutoff date.

Within the first few weeks of the October 2016 FAFSA open, applications increased by about 3 percent compared to last year. With this increase, OFA was able to send out 8,000 financial aid award notifications to incoming freshmen and their families between November 2016 and February 2017.

“Compared to the previous years’ traditional timelines, we haven’t yet seen much change in student behavior with regards to financial award acceptances,” says Paula Luff, associate vice president of Enrollment Services. “We’re speculating that students haven’t received their awards from other schools, so they have nothing to compare to DePaul’s awards.”

One major impact PPY is having on OFA is the processing of awards for continuing students. The Department of Education is requiring institutions to check application discrepancies on continuing students that they select for audit, since continuing students are using 2015 tax returns on two consecutive academic years.

This additional scrutiny has stalled the spring aid disbursement process for some continuing students who must submit additional verification paperwork to OFA to resolve any conflict between this year’s FAFSA data and next year’s.

Another process that PPY has changed is the communication outreach to prospective students and families. Incoming freshmen are receiving their aid notifications much earlier, so there is a longer wait time until the May 1 decision deadline, when deposits are due. Since students have more time to compare awards and mull over decisions, the Office of Admission has been keeping in close contact with them to increase the chances they ultimately enroll at DePaul. By frequently sharing various on-campus resources and programs, Admission aims to keep prospective students engaged with DePaul as they consider their college options.

“It’s possible that this longer stretch of time could result in a lower summer melt (the number of students who deposit but do not enroll),” shares Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president of Undergraduate Admission.  “But we just won’t know with certainty until much later in the summer.”

“We have predictive models based on a long history of data collection through sustained processes, but nothing is more useful than year-to-date comparisons,” Boeckenstedt continues. “PPY has disrupted those comparisons, not only at DePaul but nationally as well.  It’s going to take a few years for the totality of the impact to play out.  What we’ll need to do to hit our future goals is still to be determined.”