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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Parent and Student Roles

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There are several players in the student financial aid game.  The Federal and State governments, lenders, guarantee agencies, loan servicers, schools, and financial aid offices are all important players.  But without parents and students, the game can not even begin. 

The role of the parent is vital to students attending college in countless ways.  They help their students make choices, grow, become adults; they continue the role they began when their student was a small child.  They support their children by giving encouragement, a helping hand, and when it comes to financial aid, they give their Federal Tax Return information, their signature, their advice, and money.

Even before a student enters college, the role of the parent begins to change from the caretaker role to more of a supportive role.  Parents often find it difficult to let go of their child and send them off to college.  Most parents understand what a difficult transition it is for a student to leave for college, so they try to help the student with what they can to make the transition easier.

One of the ways many parents try to help their student is to take care of the student’s financial aid.  While it is the philosophy of Federal Student Financial Aid Programs that it is the responsibility of the family to pay for college, and the parents are required to participate to an extent (at least to provide income information), a student’s financial aid is still their financial aid.  Most Financial aid offices encourage parents to be active in their student’s educational experience and in helping them with their financial aid.  However, parents can help their students the most by inviting them to become actively involved in their own financing process.

Student financial aid is one of the first, best opportunities for students to learn lifeskills.  For many students, financial aid is the first time they have ever had a loan, had to deal with paperwork, federal, state and institutional policies and procedures.  It is often the first time they have needed to read through often complicated and confusing paperwork, the first time they have needed to advocate for themselves and the first time they have had to be responsible for their own financial obligations.  Parents need to help their students understand what is going on, encourage them to ask questions, read the paperwork, budget, etc.  The practice of doing all of a student’s financial aid may at first seem like a very good thing to do as a parent, but in the end it will become a problem for the one person the parents are trying to help, their student.

The second reason that students need to be involved in their own financial aid is so they can speak to the financial aid office, their lenders, and servicers.  The Federal Educational Right to Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits the financial aid staff from sharing any student information with anyone including, parents, spouses, other relatives, and friends, etc. without the expressed written permission of the student.  This regulation may make it very difficult for parents to continue to assist their students with their aid if the student is not also educated and aware of their own financial aid package and responsibilities.

The role of the student is the most important.  As the recipient of Federal and State Student Financial Aid programs the student has certain rights and responsibilities.  There are standards to maintain, criteria to be met, paperwork to be submitted, and a number of other obligations.  Student financial aid is meant to provide students access to higher education, to assist them in financing their college education, and an investment in their future.  It is not the intention of the government or the financial aid office to make this task difficult, confusing or frustrating.  However, in the attempt to provide aid most equitably to all students, to distribute as much funding to as many recipients as possible, to adhere to the regulations, policies and legislative intents of the programs, students may find the task of applying and receiving their financial aid funding difficult, confusing and/or frustrating.  The best way for students to help themselves is to advocate for themselves and educate themselves.  Build relationships with the financial aid office.  Ask questions.  Read the information provided.  Keep all documents. 

Students are the beneficiaries of their financial aid and their education.

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