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College Planning for Multiple Students

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Beth Feinberg Keenan

Written by Beth Feinberg Keenanon July 19th, 2022

I started my career at Lesley University and spent over a decade at Northeastern University’s Office for Student Financial Services, where I was a senior assistant director. At Northeastern, I worked with applicants for financial aid, athletes, and families interested in financing their educations. In addition, I have served as an ambassador with the Massachusetts Education Finance Authority, visiting Massachusetts high schools to introduce students and parents to the financial aid process and the many sources of education financing that are available. I'm a graduate of Scripps College in Claremont CA, and I have an MBA and a master’s degree in college student development and counseling from Northeastern University. I serve as an ambassador with the Massachusetts Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
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by Beth Feinberg Keenan, former financial aid officer at Northeastern University College costs are set to increase for families sending multiple dependents to college at the same time. We posted about these changes over a year ago when the COVID relief bill was announced. Today, I want to focus on the parents’ contribution, specifically that it will no longer be split among the number of students. Under the current federal financial aid formula, the calculation takes into account the number of students that simultaneously attend college. This is a nice benefit for families, and many actually receive more aid in those years where there is overlap. I know I have personally been counting on this benefit as a parent of twins. The way it works: I am expected to pay $30,000 annually, however, if my two girls attend college at the same time, my total annual contribution is still the same; but with the split it’s $15,000 for each child. The change to the federal formula, currently scheduled to go into effect for the 2024/25 school year, eliminates this split, so, in the scenario noted above with two children and a $30,000 calculated contribution, I will be expected to contribute $30,000 for each child, or $60,000 total. This change levels the playing field for families who currently pay for multiple children without any overlapping years (they’ve always had to pay their full contribution for each child), but may cost families with children in college at the same time significant financial aid eligibility. Most families I speak with are not happy with the change, but, in addition to writing your congress people (reversing the scheduled change would require legislative action), parents can only make sure they understand how this change will affect their family and continue to plan how they are going to cover college costs for their future college-bound students, regardless of their age and stage. Families with young children should continue to consider the needs for all college-bound students. This might mean increasing contribution amounts to college savings or revising overall savings goals. There is still plenty of time to consider a variety of colleges at different price tags. Those who have children in middle school have time to reevaluate educational plans and increase savings. If you have children who are in high school or college, the FAFSA is still going to ask you how many children you have attending college, though it will not factor this information into the federal financial aid calculations. It remains to be seen how colleges will respond to this federal change when it comes to awarding their own institutional aid. Some colleges, particularly those who use the CSS Profile financial aid application in addition to the FAFSA, may continue to give regard to the number of siblings in college when awarding their own institutional (not federal) funding, while other colleges may be willing to consider the number in college as a special circumstance on appeal. Since colleges have discretion in deciding how to apply federal changes to their institutional funding, make sure to ask these questions when visiting colleges:
  • With the upcoming changes to the financial aid formula, how do you plan to treat families who will have more than one child in college when awarding institutional financial aid?
  • Will you be requiring any additional documentation or financial aid applications when applying for need-based aid?
Families with current college students should ask:
  • We currently receive need-based financial aid because we have more than one in college; will we lose that aid when the formula changes?
  • If we lose the Pell Grant due to the change, will the college replace those funds with institutional aid?
  • Will multiple children in college be considered an extenuating circumstance?
Make sure you continue to ask questions that help you and your family put together a plan that accounts for these upcoming changes. We will continue to share information as schools share more widely how they are going to handle the treatment of more than one in college.

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