The first ISIRs for 2023-2024 have started to roll in and it won’t be long before you are putting together financial aid awards for your incoming students. How confident are you that your financial aid management system (FAMS) is calculating properly under all possible conditions? If you’ve already done your testing, you’re good to go, but if not, you still have time to make sure everything from EFC to Pell awards are as they should be under current regulations before those first award notices need to be delivered.
Why might your FAMS system not be calculating properly? One reason may be that there are software updates available of which you were unaware. Another may be recent regulatory changes that require re-programming your software (we think we’ve dodged this bullet for now). Finally, there could be an as yet unreported bug — most likely affecting smaller populations that perhaps were not tested as thoroughly by the provider.
Whatever the cause, if you’ve ever had ‘that conversation’ with a family when the student was awarded funds for which they were not really eligible, you know you’d rather be safe than sorry! So, the first step — create a test plan. It’s ideal if you have a test environment with real ISIR data to work with, but if you need to use your production (or only) environment, make sure you clearly identify your test records so they can be excluded from reporting or deleted all together. Next, make a list of what you will test. There are some obvious things like EFC and award amounts, but there may be other automation that impacts aid eligibility like changes to program or enrollment status.
Now that you know the ‘where’ and ‘what,’ it’s time to determine the ‘how.’ A good place to start is the 2023-2024 EFC Formula Guide. This is where you can find the worksheets and tables you can use to calculate the new EFC based on your changes to compare to the result in your system. It’s also a good guide for what conditions to test beyond the tax information in the ISIR. For example, it’s possible even a small change in the parents’ income earned from work (as opposed to the AGI) could also change the Social Security Tax (Table 3) while removing one family member from the household would change the Parent’s Income Protection Allowance (Table 4). You will note that students in different situations have different calculations, so be sure to test what happens when something changes that would cause a different calculation to be used — a change in dependency status, for example. P.S. — this is a great training exercise for new staff members with appropriate oversight, of course!
It’s likely you use more than one cost of attendance (COA) in your needs analysis, and if you do, you can test the FAMS assignment process by changing the application or record information used to determine which COA to use. Some likely triggers are living arrangements (on or off campus), degree program (graduate versus undergraduate) and status (full-time or part-time). You may have others you need to test too.
Most FAMS now have packaging automation, which will add the awards to the student’s record automatically based on EFC and other criteria you choose, so it’s efficient to test this functionality as you test EFC and COA calculations. Did your EFC and/or COA change produce the expected award adjustment?
Finally, if you’re interested, you can also test application and correction processing between the Central Processing System (CPS) and your system outside of the production environment. See this announcement from July 7 for further details.
Are you stressed trying to accommodate your students on campus today while preparing for the next award cycle? Our expert financial aid professionals can fill a number of roles in your office, from entry level to director, or provide training to your existing staff members. Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org if we can help!