The MEFA Institute: Understanding MA State Financial Aid

This webinar provides an overview of the state-based financial aid programs in Massachusetts. Join Constantia T. Papanikolaou, Chief Legal Counsel at MA Department of Higher Education, and Dr. Clantha McCurdy, Senior Deputy Commissioner of Access and Student Financial Assistance at MA Department of Higher Education, as they discuss each of these programs and highlight some initiatives by the Commonwealth of MA and Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA).

Download the webinar slides (MA State Financial Aid Overview and The New MA Tuition Equity Law: Implementation) to follow along.


Julie Shields-Rutyna: Okay. Welcome, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us. My name is Julie Shields Rutina, and I am the Director of College Planning, Education, and Training at MEFA. And this morning, we're going to talk about Massachusetts state financial aid programs, and there's so much to share, a lot of exciting news, and let me just say a few logistics before I introduce our, uh, presenters.

So, If you have any questions, you can use the Q& A feature. The chat is disabled, and if you would like to have closed captioning, press the live transcript button, and you'll be able to see the words speaking, that we're speaking, and also you can even choose the language that you'd like to see those words spoken in and if you need to leave, just know that this is being recorded and we will send you the recording and the slides tomorrow.

So you'll have those. You don't have to take too many notes. And with that, I'm just so thrilled that we have, um, presenters from the Department of Higher Education with us today. And first, we have Dr. Clantha McCurdy, who is the Senior Deputy Commissioner of Access and Student Financial Assistance. And I think a lot of you know, know Clantha.

And also, we have Dena Papanikolaou and Dena is chief legal legal counsel at the Department of Higher Education here in Massachusetts. And we're going to actually start with Dina today, and she's going to talk with you about the tuition equity law

Cantantia Papanikolaou: Great. Thank you, Julie. Good morning, everyone. Thank you, first of all, to MEFA for organizing this conversation presentation.

I really appreciate it. And before I begin, I want to thank everyone who's in attendance today. Thank you, not only for your time and attention and for joining us today, but also for the tremendous work that you do day to day helping supporting and guiding our students for college and career readiness.

Um, so I have a PowerPoint presentation today that I'm going to run through that will, um, provide you with highlights on this new, very exciting law, the new tuition equity law in Massachusetts. So if you give me just a few moments to click away and start this presentation. Okay, hopefully you can all see my screen.

That's, um, very pleased to provide you with a high level summary of this new and exciting law, the tuition equity law. The law was signed into, uh, was enacted and signed into law in late summer in August of 2023, but it did have a retroactive effect of July 1st, 2023. Legislature essentially created what we're calling a new pathway for students to establish eligibility for the in-state tuition rate and for state financial aid programs, irrespective for the most part of the student's immigration status.

And by way of background, before this law was passed, there was only one main pathway for students to establish eligibility for in state tuition for state benefits, and that was to show that the student was a legal, permanent resident of Massachusetts, um, including a U. S. citizen or a student with lawful immigration status.

That pathway still exists, I will talk about that a little later in this presentation, but the law created another different separate pathway for those not eligible under the traditional model, and we're calling this pathway the high school completer status. So, what is the high school completer status? To qualify for this status, a student applicant must have attended high school in the Commonwealth for at least three years, earned a diploma or the equivalent such as a GED and met other documentation requirements that I'm going to talk about. These are in the law, so they are non negotiable: Three years of attendance in high school in Massachusetts, earning a diploma or GED or the same or the like in the Commonwealth.

Any and all students can use this new additional pathway that again, we're calling high school completer status. But, um, as we all know, and as, uh, the department and others and the governor have recently celebrated, this extends access, this intentionally extends access to in-state tuition rates and state financial aid programs in Massachusetts to certain non U.S. citizens, namely undocumented students that meet all the high school completer requirements listed above and in the documentation section of our implementation procedures in the law. .

So, um, the department issued implementation procedures that are available on our website. And the implementation procedures do include the points that I'm running through with you today, but in terms of documentation to be eligible for the high school completion status, a student must provide either a valid Social Security number or documentation reflecting issuance of a taxpayer ID number or documentation of registration with selective service if applicable, um, for the student's gender, um, or if the individual is not a citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States, the person must provide a completed affidavit stating that the individual will file an application to become a citizen or legal permanent resident.

Within 120 days after the individual becomes eligible to do so, basically, if the federal government changes the law, basically passes the dreamer act, the applicant agrees to file the necessary paperwork to become a citizen or to achieve legal permanent residence status. Why did I emphasize the word or in a rather clumsy fashion just to get across the point that this is not a list of everything?

It's just the student has to provide one of these items. And for undocumented students, it's going to be the final bullet here it's going to be signing the affidavit that the department has created. So, um, to help implement the new tuition equity law, the department has developed as a reference before implementation procedures that you can access on our website, along with a single uniform student application affidavit form that students must fill out and institutions must use.

In assessing a student's eligibility under the new law, um, students seeking to access in-state tuition or financial aid, state financial aid with high school completer status must submit the documentation to the institution where they are or intend to be enrolled. I'm emphasizing this because we've already received questions asking whether this affidavit should be submitted to the Department in particular.

But no, it's to the institution where the student intends to be enrolled. And then each Massachusetts public college or university is responsible for determining the tuition status for its respective students. That's always been the case. The law did not change that. So each institution will be responsible for this.

And the process is therefore organized at the campus level. Once eligible for in-state tuition, student is eligible for consideration for all state financial aid programs under the same terms as other individuals. The good news is students only need to submit this form and affidavit once to the institution to where they are applying or where they are currently enrolled if they're seeking reclassification.

And that form will and must and should be used by the institution for both in-state tuition and for both, um, as the institution assesses whether the student is eligible for any state financial aid programs. Um, eligibility for consideration for financial aid does not guarantee access. Basically, the student must be eligible for each and every financial aid program that the student seeks to be eligible for under the guidelines, under the OSFA guidelines, on the same terms as other students.

The tuition equity law, however, just impacts the tuition does not, it removes a barrier, it does not prohibit the student from accessing state financial aid based on their immigration status. So, um, the creation of a uniform application and affidavit was intended to be helpful for both students and families, as well as for college and university administrators.

For administrators, the affidavit seeks to facilitate intake of student applications and assessment, student eligibility. And for students and families, the affidavit fulfills the statutory documentation requirements for high school completer status. If the student does not have a Social Security number or taxpayer ID number and the like, and that's because the affidavit allows student to attest to the requirement for high school completer status, including that test all requirements, including that the student will apply for citizenship or legal permanent residence if the federal law changes, and they'll do so within 120 days of eligibility for that status.

Um, I also know that currently students must also show proof of selective service filing if eligible per the legislation.

Unfortunately, that is currently in the law. I know that the FAFSA no longer requires this, but that is in the Massachusetts law at this time. So that our implementation procedures and the affidavit are available on our website. And so please take a look at both of those at your convenience.

I captured some screenshots of the affidavit to show you here today. This slide and the slide that follows, um, basically shows you what it looks like. It's a pretty straightforward 1-page application for students to complete. Um, I'll run through the content of this slide quickly for item number 1. This notes helps know that the individual that this calls out to the students that individuals with certain immigration statuses, specifically referenced in the Massachusetts law are not eligible for high school completer status.

This is namely the diplomatic officials and those students with certain visas authorized to work, study or visit in the United States on a short-term temporary basis. All the visa statuses that, uh, students cannot, um, have to be eligible under the tuition are listed in the U. S. code. Um, the department will be updating its website with a more user-friendly list of the visa codes so that those can be clearly understood, but at a high level, it's basically students that are on visas to work, study or live here on a temporary basis.

Items two and three of the affidavit will be submitted through the application process so proof of high school attendance will be on the student's transcript and as will be the acquisition of a high school diploma or the equivalent so there's no need for the student to resubmit. These documents along with the affidavit, the institution assessing the student's eligibility should have that.

If the institution does not have that, then the student must submit it. Um, we already received a question of whether students who are homeschooled can be eligible under the tuition equity law. The answer is yes. Instead of the student's transcript, the student must submit documentation, um, uh, authorizing, approving, confirming their homeschool status with their school district.

Item four is specific to the law. I've already mentioned that. Unfortunately, registration for federal military selective service is currently required on the law. We will take a second look at that with the legislature and item five is the heart of the affidavit. This is list of documentation that a student, um, can submit to be qualified for high school completer status either Social Security number, um, taxpayer ID number, proof of registration with selective service.

And it really, it states that the student, it attests that the student will apply for citizenship or legal permanent residence. If and when the federal law applies, the attestation language, um, appears near the bottom of the form and it's highlighted in yellow. And this is where the student signs on saying that if I have not provided any one of the documents listed in items, five, a, b, or c, I swear under the penalties of perjury that I have or will file an application to become a citizen or legal permanent residents, once eligible to do so.

And so you know we in developing this affidavit, we were somewhat fortunate that we were able to use the experiences of other states. So we did parallel best practices in parallel with what other states have done.

I say somewhat fortunate because it is unfortunate that Massachusetts took so long to pass this tuition equity law. But as a result, we do have the benefit of learning from other states and what they've done and and gleaning from their best practices. And finally, this is the last slide or last screenshot slide of the affidavit at the bottom of the affidavit.

There's this box for internal use only. It will be used by officials at the college or university. And this is where either the financial aid officer or the admissions officer checks off whether they've received documentation, um, that is listed in the law, um, and they'll check off on the right whether the student is eligible or ineligible for in-state tuition.

Next I want to talk about how we are rolling out. The tuition equity law kind of snuck up on us. As I indicated at the beginning, the law was passed in August, you know, right before the beginning of the semester. And it was retroactive to July 1. So we do have a lot of work that we need to do that. Clantha will speak to in a minute in terms of developing a state alternative FAFSA form.

So we're rolling this out in phases. For phase one, upon intake and assessment, um, qualifying high school completers are immediately eligible for the Massachusetts in-state tuition rates at all public higher education colleges and universities, all Massachusetts non-need-based tuition waivers, such as the Adams Scholarship, if they're eligible under the terms of the Adams Scholarship and the other tuition waivers, and all Massachusetts non-need-based financial aid programs such as the foster and adoptive fee assistance waivers again if otherwise eligible under the terms of each program.

Now this side is more, um, applicable to students that are currently enrolled in our colleges and universities, not so much for, um, high schoolers who are about to apply, because that was our main challenge in implementing this law quickly.

We have a lot of, the law is retroactive to July 1, and we have a lot of, um, not a lot. I don't know the number, but we have undocumented students who are enrolled in our colleges and universities who are eligible to be reassessed. Your status can be reassessed under the law. Um, so we're signaling to our colleges and universities that these students are immediately eligible once they're reassessed for non-need-based waivers, non-need-based financial aid, and in-state tuition rates.

And once the student is deemed eligible, um, they will be retroactively approved, their accounts will be credited for either the financial aid or tuition waiver or the difference between the two in-state tuition rates. So, um, phase two of our implementation process involves need-based financial aid so financial aid programs that take into account a student or a student's family's income and Expected Family Contribution.

Thank you. And this is because since need-based determinations are based on the FAFSA and undocumented students are unable to complete the FAFSA, the department is working to develop a new tool, a state alternative FAFSA form to assess financial aid need for the undocumented students attending public colleges and universities.

Unfortunately, without a state alternative FAFSA, we are unable to assess.

Um, the good news is that the department anticipates that the, uh, state alternative FAFSA will be finalized in the coming weeks. Um, and clear, they can speak to that more specifically, but definitely before the beginning of the next semester before January one and eligibility determinations made during FY24 as students are being reclassified.

Again enrolled students will be retroactive to July 1, 2023 as applicable if the student was enrolled in taking courses at that time. So, um, that's all I have in terms of a high-level summary of the new law and the implementation procedures. We do have a website set up so please visit our website for additional information. We will be updating the website with additional resources and information as it becomes available.

We have our implementation procedures. There are the affidavit. We have a sample notice that colleges and universities are encouraged to use to get the word out to students. And we also have frequently asked questions, a Q&A document on the website, which we will be updating regularly. So please, if you have questions, go there first.

See, we may have already answered the question. And if we haven't answered the question, you can submit your question through our website. There is an email address on our website, which provides you instructions for that. I think we have time to run through some Q& A, um, that I have pulled from the existing FAQ, and I'm hoping that you'll find this, this helpful.

Basically, I ran through it before this meeting to get a sense of what FAQs I thought would be helpful. I have to move this. I'm sorry. I have to move this, um, zoom bar at the top. I can't even read my own slide. Okay, so I'm going to run through slides, some slides with some, um, FAQs. So the first one that we've received is just qualifying for in-state tuition, meaning student has access to Massachusetts state financial aid.

The answer is yes, but as I indicated previously subject to meeting the eligibility requirements of each and every financial aid program for which the student is applying. Um, if the student's determined to be eligible for in-state tuition with high school completer status, they may be eligible for consideration for some financial aid programs.

As I said previously, eligibility for consideration is not automatic, it is not an entitlement. Um, the high school completer, uh, student will be considered for state financial assistance on the same terms as other individuals. Next, if a currently enrolled student is reclassified with high school completer status, can the student seek a tuition adjustment for courses taken in previous years?

Um, yes and no. The new provision became law as of July 1, 2023, so it can be used for any term that begins after that date. The law cannot be used to change the tuition status for any term beginning prior to July 1, 2023. Another question that we've received is will the student be asked about their parents immigration status, either on the application affidavit form or in the state alternative FAFSA.

This is an important one. And the answer is no, absolutely not. For the purposes of the Massachusetts tuition equity law, the immigration status of a student's parent is completely immaterial. The student's immigration status is also largely immaterial. However, the provision is not available to certain students with certain immigration statuses, specifically referenced in the law, such as Diplomatic officials and those only authorized to visit, work, or study here on a short-term temporary basis.

And this is an important and exciting part of the new law. The parents immigration status is immaterial. What other ways can students be eligible for in-state tuition I think this is a good question to review with our guidance counselors, um, students, as I indicated earlier. All right. This is a new additional pathway.

So the traditional pathway is still available to students. Students can also be eligible for the in-state tuition status by the primary traditional pathway, the Board of Higher Education's residency policy, which is on our website, which, um, requires a student to establish U. S. citizenship, lawful immigrant status, lawful permanent resident status and satisfy the residential requirement and showing an intention to stay in Massachusetts either six months before enrolling in a community college or 12 months before enrolling in a university. The tuition equity provision in high school status again is an additional way to establish tuition eligibility.

We've already received questions of, well, if all students can use um, high school completer status to establish institute state tuition. Um, what students would use is the traditional pathway. Well, refugees and asylum seekers, um, would not be eligible for the tuition equity high school completer status. Um, but they can access in-state tuition rate through the traditional pathway.

And also, students from other states who moved here but did not intend high school for three years. So students who moved here in their junior or senior, traditional students who moved here in their junior or senior year, or the student did not receive a diploma in Massachusetts. Maybe they did three years of high school here and moved out of state.

Um, there's no requirement that, uh, so basically they would use the, uh, traditional pathway to access the in-state tuition rate. Does the Massachusetts tuition equity law impact the student's eligibility for federal financial aid? No. High school completer status and the tuition equity law does not change federal requirements or federal forms for financial aid, such as Pell Grants, direct loans.

It's only applicable to state financial aid. And then finally, and I'm going to turn this over to Clantha now, but finally I just wanted to know that if a student believes that a student was incorrectly classified or reclassified by the college or university in which they are enrolled, or in which they are applying, the students do have appeal rights.

Um, the process is the student must first approach the institution to which the student is applying or enrolled to follow the institution's appeal process and then students who remain aggrieved after raising the issue with their institution may also submit their concerns to the Department of Higher Education through the department's complaint process, the links to which are on our website.

So, with that, I think I'm going to stop there. Um, but also to highlight to folks, you see, on the bottom of the slide. We have an email address set up for questions regarding tuition equity tuition So it's there where I encourage you to submit your questions.

Um, and we are, uh, constantly updating our FAQ, um, with frequently asked questions, not necessarily one-off questions, but frequently asked questions. So with that, I think I'm going to turn it back over to, um, Julie and Dr. McCurdy. Thank you

Julie Shields-Rutyna: Thank you so much. Just before I turn it over to Clantha we have two quick questions that I think maybe you could both weigh in on.

I think they'll be quick. First is our students with an employment authorization eligible to receive this program?

Cantantia Papanikolaou: That's a really good question. Um, I didn't reference, I didn't, um, reference our current third additional pathway pursuant to which a student can access the in-state tuition rate. What we call the DACA process still is available.

Um, so if a student has a work permit, the student can access in-state tuition under the traditional pathway. Just because a student has a work authorization doesn't make them a high school completer. High school completers must have three years of attendance in Massachusetts high school graduation in, I'm sorry, securing a diploma in Massachusetts.

Um, but students who don't meet that criteria and have a work organization should look at the traditional process.

Julie Shields-Rutyna: And the other quick one is just given high school graduation is a requirement, what's the best timing for applying?

Cantantia Papanikolaou: For applying for the, um, tuition at well? They should apply new students.

So Clantha and I've been really focused on students who are currently enrolled in our colleges and universities, because as I said earlier, this law kind of snuck up on us and these students need to be reclassified during this year. But for, um, students who are applying, um, who are in high school now or non-traditional students who are looking to go to college, a college or university, um, should, should apply with high school completer status with their college application.

So there's no reason to delay. Um, I think our institutions are in the process of revamping their processes and figuring out how to accept the affidavits and the forms along with the application. Either before the student's admitted to allow this to reflect in the student's financial aid process or after the student's admitted to allow the student to be reclassified and be eligible for the tuition rate.

Um, I would just say, have a student apply. Right away. The sooner, the better.

Julie Shields-Rutyna:That's great. Thank you so much.

Clantha McCurdy: Okay, I'm gonna see if I can share this screen and, um, get it into presentation mode here. Um, just one second here because this thing is always in the way here.

Let's see. Here we go. Okay, so good morning everyone and it's a pleasure to be with you again. We do these workshops once a year and it's always good to bring information into you. We've already designed an agenda, and we've already gotten through probably the most important part of it, the tuition equity law.

But along the way, I'd like to talk to you a little bit about the FY24 budget and what we expect in 25, FAFSA completion, EFC to SAI conversion, and the implication for state financial aid, an overview of the new initiatives, and talk a little bit about some of the historically funded programs. So with that, I've tended to start my presentations now with a slide that I stole from the commissioner, because I think it sets up a little bit of information about how we think and what we are striving to do within the department as far as financing a system of higher education that works both for students and institutions, that little circle in the middle, but I just like to call your attention to the upper left.

I would call that a rectangle. So we're looking at a system that advances student access to high quality and affordable education. And then at the lower right, a system that recognizes innovation and collaboration. So that probably will give you some insight as to some of the new initiatives that we are rolling out.

It's not business as usual anymore, but it's very exciting for us at the Department of Higher Education. Um, let's start with the FY24 budget. I'm going to run through these because I know we have pretty much about a half hour and Julie, you can tell me or confirm if that's correct.

Yes. Okay, great. Uh, so the FY24 budget showed a commitment to state financial aid, but also an investment. Uh, there's continued funding for Massachusetts students throughout need-based programs, mass grant, which you are very familiar with. And I'll talk a little bit more about that in a second, but that program comes with the highest grant awards and over three decades, then we have access grants for students that are public two-year, four-year institutions for full and part-time students and a program that you've heard much about over the past three, four years, MASSGrant Plus, but there's also assistance for basic needs.

And an emergency fund and a housing partnership that seeks to provide housing for homeless community college students at our state universities. And then we've continued with funding for the entitlement programs, the tuition and fee assistance program for foster and adopted children or students foster child grant, and also one that we have had for many years the public service grant, and that basically provides tuition assistance for students and, uh, children and spouses of, um, deceased firefighters, uh, I'm sorry, yeah, fire, uh, firemen, police officers, and other military people who, uh, were, uh, died during service. Sorry about that tongue twister.

Just with the historic increase in financial aid, um, I did not update this chart for 24 because 24 would look exactly like 23. But this just shows how the Commonwealth has continued to invest in financial aid, and we've gotten in the general scholarship account, we are now up to 175 million. But if you looked back, um, in FY24, we were just barely reaching 90 million.

So it's a tremendous leap for us. And it's been something that has allowed us to promote access to students in a number of ways. If we look at the new investment in financial aid, and this is what has been so exciting and what has also kept us busy at the department, a new financial aid investment, 63 million for programs like MassReconnect for community college students, an in-demand scholarship program for public college students, and a nursing scholarship and support program for community college students.

At the same time, we received an 84 million increase in financial aid for what we called financial aid expansion and redesign. And from that, there's MASSGrant Plus expansion, and of course, the access to financial aid for undocumented students. So Massachusetts then has done quite well.

And if we look at budget expectations for next year, we do anticipate continued funding for these programs. Um, in fact, the department of higher education, along with our public and private stakeholders will continue to advocate for this continued commitment. The first insight that we will get into in the FY25 budget, of course, will come with the governor's release of her house one budget, which I think comes out around late January.

And we'll continue to watch with great expectations as the House Ways and Means and Senate Ways and Means, um, provide their budgets, but as we all know, that final budget is driven by the legislature, so hopefully they'll come back and, uh, provide us with that continued, um, and increased commitment, uh, for our students in the Commonwealth.

So what's new in financial aid? There were two important announcements, uh, over the past few months that hopefully you heard about or maybe witnessed on the day of. The first was the August 15th announcement by the governor where she, um, launched the MassReconnect program. This event was held at Bunker Hill, and it announced tuition fees, books, and supplies for adult learners age 25 and older and that age is as of the start of their academic term.

Um, I cite this program because, you know, your students won't be 25, but they have relatives, siblings, parents, and other people that you know in the community. And we'd like to make sure that this information is something that you can share as you visit with your colleagues and others.

And then just recently on November 15th, the governor announced the MASSGrant Plus expansion at Innegant Health at Salem State University. And there was, I wish you could have been there, lots of applause for the governor and everyone like this, including students, right, who were there. What this does, MASSGrant Plus expansion, is it eliminates what I consider the out-of-pocket expenses for low-income Pell-eligible students, specifically the EFC, but it also provides resources for middle-income families with an adjusted income up to 100,000.

And in financial aid terms, we list the EFC of 15,000 because, you know, in the financial aid world, what does 100,000 mean? Um, we've captured the crosswalk with EFC and it's typically around 15,000. So that is some additional news for students and their families.

As many of your students will complete the FAFSA, not qualify for Pell Grant and may not get some of the other need-based programs, but there is resources available for them at our two-year and four-year public colleges under the MASSGrant Plus expansion. Uh, that's being implemented right now and our institutions are retroactively awarding students and we hope that Um, we can tell you in the fall, as your seniors graduate and move on, that that program is available.

Also, as, um, you have students who come back to you and they're saying, well, it's been tough, I need more money, or what have you, this is a message that you can relay to them. Just direct them back to the Office of Student Financial Assistance, um, at their public college or university in Massachusetts.

Just heard about the tuition equity law, so I'm going to skip these next two screens. I had this in case Dena wasn't there, but I do want to talk to you a little bit about the alternative financial aid application for undocumented students that is currently under development and available. I'm sorry, this says later next month.

I should have updated that later this month. In fact, the target release date is somewhere between December 15th and 18th, depending on, um, who you're talking to and what day it is, right? Um, we are on track though, working with Regent Access. Uh, that's the company that is developing, uh, this alternative application.

And for now, we are going to refer to that as the Massachusetts Alternative Financial Aid Application. Um, in every way, it mimics the FAFSA. and will result in a calculated EFC for students. And for, um, the application is designed, um, under two different languages. So it'll be in English and Spanish, um, instructions along the way to make it a little easier, um, for our undocumented population as they are applying.

And what I can tell you is once that application is available, and we are launching, um, a communication strategy for students to make sure that they are aware and will apply. But once it is launched and students apply, if they qualify for MASSGrant, meaning if they have an EFC that falls within the Pell range, then they will be retroactively awarded those funds, providing they meet eligibility criteria, which means essentially they must be enrolled full time.

MASSGrant is only given to students who are enrolled full time. And we've also reserved funding to assist these students. through the MASSGrant Plus expansion program. So there will be financial aid available for students, but as Dena mentioned, students will need to meet the eligibility criteria for each student.

This is not going to be an entitlement. They must meet that, but we are waiving certain deadlines for students.

I want to talk a little bit about FAFSA completion. Um, that I think is on the mind of everyone. As we know, the FAFSA is delayed. The latest word that we have from the feds and probably, uh, what you know as well is that that FAFSA should be available on December 31st for students to begin to complete and it's also my understanding that state agencies like the Department of Higher Education and our institutions will not have access to the student data for at least another month.

I think if I'm correct is somewhere around the early part of February, but either way, students will be able to begin completing that FAFSA and at the Department of Higher Ed, we are launching a FAFSA completion project. You will hear a little bit more about that as we try to incentivize FAFSA completion.

We have a communication strategy that will launch later this month, and it will go through June of 2024. And that basically is designed to increase FAFSA completion by our low-income students. Um, you know, Massachusetts does pretty well when you look at FAFSA completion. Nationally, we tend to be number 56 or something like that.

We don't fall that far below. But where we lack is completion by low-income and underrepresented students. So our efforts for this FAFSA completion campaign will be directed at gateway communities and trying to get as many students as possible to complete that FAFSA. In fact, we'll start with an FSA ID campaign.

And there are tons of us doing that around the state. Other access groups that are encouraging students to at least for now get their FSA ID for themselves and the parent so that they're ready to complete the FAFSA as soon as it is launched. So lots going on there and more information will follow. So you'll be informed of that.

Plus, we'll have information posted on the Department of Higher Ed's website. One thing that we are concerned about, and you more so than we are, and the institutions, is the conversion of EFC to SAI, Expected Family Contribution to the Student Aid Index. And we know that that's going to impact the number of students who will qualify for Pell.

In fact, the latest information that we retrieved from the federal government suggests that we will have at least 12,000 new Pell recipients as a result of the federal methodology. And what's interesting is that we did our own research internally based on our FAFSA data, and we came up with basically the same number.

We are anticipating 12,000 new Pell recipients. What we do not know is where those students will be on the range, whether they'll be at the lowest to the highest, you know, that we'll have to wait on the FAFSA information to see. But also, in addition to that, we expect that there will be 25,000 current Pell recipients to receive the maximum Pell.

So what that means is, uh, those students will likely have, um, an SAI equivalent to the EFC range of zero to probably 200. And I don't have that conversion just yet, but the lowest Student Aid Index will be eligible for that max. And as we look at, um, bringing those students into the fold, um, it will probably mean that we need more money to continue MASSGrant at the current levels.

And that's something that we continue to digest and review so that we can get that. Correct. Um, as far as requesting, uh, funds for FY25. Um, but the goal is, uh, to inform institutions of any change in the MASSGrant program, hopefully by the end of the calendar year to guide their processing for 24-25, which will also be helpful to you because our institutions will start to put together their award packages, and they want to know what is MASSGrant, what is the value of MASSGrant, even though the Department of higher ed controls MASSGrant, the institutions really want to know how they can package these students.

But we'll continue to collaborate with our institutions and other stakeholders as we, um, review the impact of this conversion on students and our funding process. So let's talk about some of the new things that, um, we have been working on and want to share with you. We've launched or implemented several new programs under the Massachusetts assistance for student success.

So if you've ever wondered where does that MASS come from in the names of these programs doesn't stand for Massachusetts is actually the acronym for Massachusetts Assistance for Student Success, the umbrella of state financial aid programs. MASSGrant you are aware of it was Massachusetts Uh, formally called the state scholarship, but it really wasn't a scholarship.

So we did revise that name to MASSGrant and that's what we've used over the past few years. We implemented the MASSGrant Plus program and that started as a pilot with community colleges in FY19 and later we added, um, that resource for state university students. And later UMass students. So now students at all public colleges and universities, um, can access MASSGrant Plus funds if they meet the criteria.

The other new program, as I mentioned, that was rolled out, uh, this summer in August is MassReconnect. I just mentioned that and that program serves community college students age 25 and over. And then the MASSGrant Plus expansion, which basically allows us to, um, award full and part-time Pell students, cover the out-of-pocket expenses for those students, as well as providing access to those funds for the middle-income families.

Aand these programs for the most part are funded under the general scholarship program. However, the MASSGrant Plus is funded under the financial aid expansion fund, and I have in parentheses, their share. Some of you might know their share as the millionaires tax. Higher education does receive funding from that fair share, and we have really seen the benefits of that this year.

MASSGrant Plus, just a little bit more about that program, it is the last dollar grant that supports the students' direct costs for tuition and fees. And in some cases, books and supplies. And I say that in some cases because if the student is Pell-eligible, their books are covered. If they are non-Pell-eligible, then it's just tuition and fees.

And that program is really designed to supplement other state financial aid programs. The goal is to make college more affordable. And as I said to help parents with their families with their out-of-pocket expenses. But overall, the program is intended, like all of our financial aid programs, to promote enrollment persistence and degree completion to groups of students and I'm not going to take much time with this Pell-eligible and the non-Pell-eligible, which we consider the middle-income families.

We have provided guidelines to our institutions for each group, and it tells them how to calculate the award. Um, because the award calculation differs for the two categories, so if a student wants to know if they qualify for one or both, um, we would direct them to the institution because we've provided these resources to institutions as an allocation, so they actually award funds directly.

To students under the MASSGrant Plus expansion, as well as the MASSGrant Plus last dollar. Um, the enrollment criteria is a minimum of six credits for Pell-eligible students or 12 credits if they're full-time for full-time, um, for students. Oh, I'm sorry. Let me just tell you what we're providing as far as book and supply allowance.

Um, 1,200 if a student is full-time for the year. This is a, an annual amount. So 1,200 for the year. 900 if that student is what we call three-quarter time. And 11 credits. But if a student is part-time taking at least six credits, six to eight each term, it's 600 for the year. And If you look at what the institutions, um, list at in their total cost of attendance for books and supply allowance, that 1,200, um, amount is pretty consistent with what you will see.

Of course, if you are attending schools where, such as Mass College of Art, where there could be some additional expenses for that based on the type of major the student has, it will not cover that, but we do have that max amount that institutions can award to students, um, under this program. And as I've noted, EFC is not a factor in the award calculation here.

Um, I think I've just gone through this, but this is for the middle-income family, EFC, um, up to 15,000 or just a gross income 100,000. And as you can see, the award formula that the colleges are using is tuition and fees minus all grant aid equals unmet need, and these students are eligible for one half of that unmet need where EFC is not factored in allowing the family to receive assistance for their out-of-pocket expenses.

So this is very innovative in the sense that our state aid does not align with some of the federal programs that require that the institution consider EFC before making an award. So that's been a challenge for our institutions as they've had to implement new program standards or processes to get that done.

But they have been great partners in getting that in that those resources to students. And just to summarize here, the commitment under the MASSGrant Plus expansion does represent an historic expansion of state financial aid for public college students. I think that roughly 25,000 students are expected to benefit from this program.

And this is the first time that Massachusetts is on record for covering the EFC for all full and part-time Pell-eligible students, but also expanding, um, resources to middle-income families and making the awards retroactively for this. Fall for students because this program was just launched in November.

What it does for us nationally is Massachusetts jumps from being number 26 to 14 in terms of the amount of state financial aid provided for full-time students. And that's an amazing jump in one year, and I'm hoping that we can continue that. And hope that that will continue to go MassReconnect just a short word on that.

It's a program designed to attract, incentivize, and encourage a diverse population of adult students age 25 and over to attend college, either for the first time to earn a postsecondary credential or degree. Or return to complete a degree that they did not finish before and believe me, there are a number of students doing both going for the first time or going back and I get calls continuously where people can't believe that that's there, but it truly, truly is.

And it's been a great program for our community college students or adult learners. I'm going to skip that. Let's talk a little bit about other state programs that in the time that we have left. I just listed some of the programs that you hear about every year, MASSGrant, where we have committed 75 million this year.

That's a long way from 30 or 40 million. Cash Grant, 26 million. The Gilbert Grant, which provides support for Massachusetts residents who attend our state temple. private or independent colleges within the Commonwealth. Uh, there are a couple of, um, workforce development programs, the ECE. Scholarship, uh, the paraprofessional teacher scholarship.

And then, of course, we've launched, um, two pilot programs, a completion grant where we are providing, um, last dollar assistance to students who've maxed out, uh, regular financial aid at the state or federal level, but they need that one extra semester to complete that degree. And that has been a very popular program at our four-year institutions.

And of course, um, since the pandemic, having emergency funds available for students for things like housing, childcare, transportation, any immediate, um, need that students will have. And just a little bit about some of the tuition waivers that we have for your entering freshman students or those who are continuing.

We spend about 19 million dollars for a need-based tuition waiver, 16 million under the John and Abigail Adams scholarship. Two million on the Koplik Certificate of Mastery, um, the valedictorian tuition waiver, which a lot of people are interested in. Now, we didn't have a lot of interest in that, but we now do.

But, you know, it's, uh, the tuition waiver is a very small amount of the students' total cost. I think, um, up to about 1,740 if you are enrolled at one of the UMass campuses and a whole lot less at community colleges over the state universities. But those are resources that our financial aid offices are able to assist students with and not to mention the adopted and foster child tuition waivers, which we spend about one and a half million dollars each year.

So you might see these waivers as part of your students' financial aid package, but that kind of compliments the other financial aid that students will receive just a little bit about the MASSGrant Plus program. This year we have the highest award in MASSGrant in three decades, and that's 3,000 for students who are enrolled at four-year public and private institutions, and 2,000 for students at community colleges.

This comes a long way from a 1,200 Masquerade Award about 10 years ago, but we still haven't caught up with where we were in the early 90s when the max was 3,600. We may get to that at some point, but this speaks volumes and it has certainly made a difference to students. We continue to use May 1st as a priority deadline.

Um, but I will tell you that as you see that last bullet, any FAFSA applicant, um, whose application comes in after May, starting with May 2nd will be awarded on the basis of available funds. And we have been able to, in some years get as far as June 1st, um, during COVID, we were able to get a little bit further because of course, enrollment dropped off, but we also now will be providing resources for the undocumented student and they must complete that alternative financial aid application. .

I have their date to be determined for FY25, the 24-25 year because that application is also currently under development and we don't have the target release date there yet, but we will, um, align that with what we think is fair for those students and that these students must have an eligible Student Aid Index.

So the bottom line for MASSGrant. If you qualify for Pell grant, you will qualify for a MASSGrant. And that has always been the philosophy. Um, this just shows you the number of applications we receive every year by the May 1st deadline. You know, not all of these students are awarded, of course, because a number of students will go to out-of-state institutions or not attend an institution in Massachusetts.

But we are very consistent and back on the increase with application or FAFSA completion since, um, the pandemic. Just a word about the entitlement programs, the adopted and foster fee assistance program level funded at 7.2 million. We serve about 800 students with that program. The funding has been sufficient to award any student who, um, Is enrolled and the same thing for the foster child grant, which is funded a little lower at 1.4 million.

It is a last dollar scholarship, but completely portable and students can receive a last dollar grant up to 6,000 a year to attend any school of their choice. And lastly, the Christian A. Herter Scholarship. And I have this last because in a few days you will get the information about the 2024 application, I don't think that's gone out just yet, but this is a competitive four-year scholarship that requires the student to be nominated during their sophomore or junior year and you have been great and nominating students.

For this program, student must demonstrate financial need and show evidence of extenuating circumstances, but more so an ability to overcome obstacles, and they can enroll in a post-secondary institution anywhere in the United States. The scholarship cannot exceed more than half of their need, but because we cannot fund half of students' need at an independent or private college with tuitions that exceed 60,000, the average award is about 17,000, but the maximum for this year is 20,000.

And again, still a very nice scholarship for these students. So when you get that information, please nominate them because I think this year we'll go back to the Statehouse and have a Herter Scholarship Award Ceremony.

We haven't had that since COVID, so we are looking forward to that. And at that, um, I am done with my presentation, and I think it's right on the dot with the time. Thank you

Julie Shields-Rutyna: Thank you so much, Clantha. It is, and that was wonderful. So much, I will say, very positive, great information. Very nice to hear. We did have a couple of last questions that I think were more for Dena about visas.

There were just a couple. So I would say that she, in her slides, gave that question, uh, email that you can write in. So I would suggest that you just, you know, follow up with that. There is one question, Clantha, that I think you'll be able to answer. Someone asked, you know, if someone is eligible for the in-state tuition, will they be eligible to receive a Mass No Interest Loan?

Clantha McCurdy: Um, if they, uh, Yes, they will be. Um, they'll have access to all state financial aid, which includes the no interest loan program. They just have to attend a public or private college or university that participates in that program. Not all institutions participate in the no interest loan, but yes, they will be eligible.

Thank you. And that's a great question. Yes. Yes.

Julie Shields-Rutyna: So thank you so much, Clantha. And I'm, I'm so grateful to Dena as well. And thank you for all your wonderful questions. And as I mentioned, we'll be sending the recording and we will have the slides that we'll get to you. And we'll be putting those, um, you know, prominent MEFA website as well.

And please know that you can reach out to all of us for questions as we move forward with all these great programs.

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