Updated 6-4-20

General COVID-19 Financial Aid FAQ

The Office of Financial Aid, with guidance from the US Department of Education, is working to address questions and concerns of Soka students who are impacted by the recent developments from the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to answer some of the most frequently asked questions we have created this COVID-19 FAQ.

The Office of Financial Aid is now closed to in person meetings.  We remain open during our regular business hours of Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. through email, video conferencing, and phone appointments. To schedule an appointment, please email financialaid@soka.edu

In the event our regular business hours will not work for you due to a difference in time zones, please let us know and we will work with you to find a mutually convenient time.

On March 20, 2020, we received new guidance from the United States Department of Education that we are no longer required to adjust students’ cost of attendance or financial aid packages. As a result, we are pleased to announce that all Soka students who return home to continue their education online will receive a room & board refund.

Department of Education FAQ guidance from March 20 regarding Cost of Attendance:

“We are planning to close our dormitories as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. If an institution provides a refund for a portion of the costs for a student’s room and board as a result of the outbreak, does the institution need to adjust student budgets? Do we also need to consider the difference in costs for students who must relocate to off-campus housing? What if we provide a partial refund of tuition and fees?

No. If, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, you provide a refund or waiver of expenses for all or part of a student’s tuition, fees, room and board charges, or other institutional charges, or if you become aware that a student has moved off campus for the remainder of the term, the Department will not require a re-evaluation of the student’s cost of attendance. Therefore, you are not required to make changes to a student’s Title IV awards on the basis of such changes.”

Students who successfully petition to stay on campus for the remainder of the semester or continue with their study abroad program will not have their housing charges, cost of attendance, or financial aid revised. As a result, they will not receive a refund.

If you need additional funding to purchase your flight home, or other COVID-19 related expenses, federal regulations permit us to increase your cost of attendance to allow for this additional educational expense. For international students, an additional Soka Loan will be offered to cover this expense. Domestic students will be offered either a federal subsidized/unsubsidized student loan or a parent PLUS loan depending on your remaining federal eligibility.

You will receive a six-month grace period on repayment of each loan that you receive. Your six-month grace period begins the day after you graduate, drop below half-time enrollment, or withdrawal from the university. You do not have to begin making payments on your loan until after your grace period ends.

If you would like to request a budget adjustment, please contact us at financialaid@soka.edu to request the budget adjustment request form.

Unfortunately, the US Department of Education does not have the authority to change the compliance requirements related to withdrawals. If you formally withdraw or stop attending your online courses (unofficial withdrawal), the Office of Financial Aid is required to process a withdrawal calculation. This calculation will determine what portion of your financial aid you are entitled to keep and which portion needs to be returned. The Student Accounts Office will also calculate what percentage of fees you are responsible for the term and what percentage you will be credited. If you are thinking about withdrawing from the spring semester we recommend making an appointment by emailing finanicalaid@soka.edu to discuss the financial implications.

The US Department of Education allows the Office of Financial Aid to reassess your family’s ability to contribute to your educational expenses if their income has been impacted as a result of illness, work closure, unemployment or other related financial hardship. To appeal, please complete the Special Circumstance Request for Review form.

For questions about the process or acceptable documentation please contact us at financialaid@soka.edu

Financial aid documents can be submitted in person, email, or fax. If you decide to email documents as an attachment, we ask that you redact any sensitive information such as social security number or any other personal identifying information prior to scanning the attachment. We are currently exploring a secure drop box option and will update you if we are able to implement this to submit documents. Some loan documents will require the original document be sent via mail or in person and email will not be accepted.

The Department of Education is allowing institutions due to COVID-19  to continue to pay Federal Work-Study (FWS) wages if they choose to do so. The Department of Education has provided the following guidance by stating that institutions may continue to pay FWS wages to students enrolled at an institution that closes temporarily due to the coronavirus, or for those whose employer closes as a result of the coronavirus. The new Q&A elaborated on that language and expanded the concept of closure to include situations where the student is unable to work, adding that “as long as the institution continues to pay its essential faculty and/or staff and continues to meet its institutional wage share requirement for the FWS program, it may pay students FWS funds for hours the students were scheduled to work, but could not work as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.” This situation could apply to institutions that have not fully closed but have moved classes online and therefore, some or all FWS students are unable to work.

For the 2019-2020 academic year Soka will be paying students who were awarding FWS as part of their financial aid award, were working prior leaving campus, and have reaming FWS eligibility that has not yet been exhausted. Soka will pay FWS based on average hours per pay period that you worked this semester up to the amount of your award.  Students will receive a one-time payment on April 22, 2020. Students do not need to clock in, record their time, or apply to receive a payment.

CARES Act and Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund FAQ

As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, Economic Security (CARES) Act, Congress allocated $14.25 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). We have created this FAQ based on guidance from the Department of Education recently released. We will continue to update this FAQ as we receive more information.

Soka applied for HEERF funding the first week the application was announced. As part of the CARES Act, Congress allocated $14.25 billion for the HEERF. HEERF allocations have been awarded to institutions using a methodology focused 75% on number of full-time Pell Grant recipients and 25% on overall enrollment at that institution. Using this formula, Soka University of America will receive $351,126 of HEERF funding. The CARES Act stipulates that at least 50% of these funds be distributed directly to students, but the university has made the decision to disburse the entire amount to help students during these challenging times.

Federal guidelines stipulate that international and undocumented students are not eligible for the HEERF funding. The university is exploring alternate means to support these students. When the HEERF funds become available to the university, they will be directly disbursed.

Students must meet Title IV eligibility requirements (eligible file a FAFSA and receive federal financial aid) in order to receive HEERF emergency funds. After confirming the Title IV eligibility requirements, the institution retains discretion over which students will receive HEERF-student share funds. According to the certification agreement, institutions are required to comply with “all applicable laws including non-discrimination laws” when determining who will receive the emergency grants. Beyond that stipulation, there are no further prohibitions of specific students in the certification agreement. Therefore, any Title IV-eligible student may receive HEERF-student share funds, unless prohibited by another law. 

There have been many questions about awarding HEERF-student share funds to international students, online students, and undocumented students. 

International and Undocumented Students: ED’s April 21 guidance states that students must meet Title IV eligibility requirements in order to receive HEERF-student share funds. Therefore, international and undocumented students are not eligible to receive emergency grants.

Federal guidelines stipulate that international and undocumented students are not eligible for the HEERF funding. The university is exploring alternate means to support these students. When the HEERF funds become available to the university, they will be directly disbursed.

However, Soka has decided to take $226,800 in funds not spent in this year’s student affairs budget and allocate this funding equally to all international and undocumented students, who were not able to receive any money from the HEERF. In addition, Soka is in the process of setting up a procedure for students who are still living on campus to apply for funding to cover travel costs to return home at the end of the semester. The financial aid office will be sending emails with more information on both of these decisions in the near future.

Institutions may use HEERF-student funds to reimburse themselves if they provided an emergency grant to a student that meets the same eligibility criteria of HEERF grant funds on or after March 27 — the day the CARES Act became law. 

Soka University has decided to use the student and institutional portion of the HEERF to refund students.

The Department of Education’s certification agreement states that schools must “promptly and to the greatest extent practicable” distribute HEERF emergency financial aid grants to students by one year from the date they submit the signed certification form.

When the Soka gets access to it’s HEERF allocation, funds will be sent directly to students in a timely manner and in accordance with U.S. law.

On April 23, 2020, students received an email to inform them that Soka would be granted $351,126 of the Higher Education Relief Fund (HEERF) to be distributed directly to Title IV eligible students.  We are pleased to announce we received the HEERF money on May 15, 2020, and began processing disbursements on May 16, 2020.

Soka made the decision to award the HEERF to all domestic students who are eligible while prioritizing students who demonstrate significant financial need. Each of you will be receiving a credit to pay for expenses directly related to the disruption of campus operations due to the coronavirus. 

The range of HEERF awards is from $2,135 to $705. Please log into your Soka Learn account to review your financial aid awards and HEERF eligibility. Soka awarded the HEERF based on a student’s expected family contribution (EFC) using a tiered structure to determine eligibility for awarding. 

If domestic students can not verify Title IV or they have other changes in their status, funds may be redistributed based on professional judgement and special circumstances.

Soka received the HEERF money on May 15, 2020, and the Office of Financial aid disbursed all eligible students HEERF on May 16, 2020.

The Office of Accounting anticipates having all refunds processed within the next two weeks. Please note, Soka does not have oversight of individual banking or mail service transaction timelines. Please allow time for these normal services to occur prior to receipt of funding.

Students who did have not signed up for direct deposit may see a delay in receiving their HEERF disbursement.

Soka Cares Grant Fund

Since international and undocumented students are not eligible to receive aid from the Federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), Soka has decided to take $226,800 in funds not spent in this year’s student affairs budget and allocate this funding equally to all international and undocumented students.

 

On April 29, 2020, students received an email to inform them that Soka would be creating the Soka Cares fund to award all international and undocumented students to pay for expenses directly related to the disruption of campus operations due to the coronavirus

All Soka Cares eligible students will be receiving a credit of $1,200. Please be aware that federal tax may be withheld upon receipt of the funding due to regulations required by the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) addressing international tax treaties. No application is required to receive these funds.

Soka’s Office of Financial aid received the approval to award Saka Cares funds to students on May 14, 2020, and the Office of Financial aid disbursed all eligible students the same day.

The Office of Accounting anticipates having all refunds processed by May 23, 2020. Please note, Soka does not have oversight of individual banking or mail service transaction timelines. Please allow time for these normal services to occur prior to receipt of funding.

Students who did have not signed up for direct deposit may see a delay in receiving their HEERF disbursement.

In addition to the Soka Cares Grant Fund, Soka will be purchasing flights home for students who are still living on campus. Students will need to apply for funding to cover travel costs to return home at the end of the semester with the Office of Financial Aid. A virtual meeting was held with students who are still living on campus with International Student Services and Student Affairs to outline the process and answer the student’s questions.