World and Nation

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Lawmaker says colleges are misleading on aid requirements

Many top colleges are misleading applicants about the paperwork needed to seek financial aid, possibly violating federal law and costing students extra money, a congressman said Monday.

The Department of Education said it was reviewing the allegations by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, based on an investigation by committee staff members.

Under federal law, college students need to fill out just one form to apply for several kinds of aid from the federal government, including Pell grants and loans: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA. Before granting aid from their own coffers, hundreds of colleges require both FAFSA and a form created by the College Board, called the CSS/Financial Aid Profile.

The College Board’s form is much more complex than FAFSA, and unlike the FAFSA, it is not free, carrying a $25 fee for the first college a student sends it to and $16 for each additional one, though the fee can be waived for low-income families.

The problem, Cummings said, is that the instructions on many colleges’ websites give the incorrect impression that both forms are required for federal aid. In a letter released Monday, he asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan for help in making sure that colleges “are not creating improper and unnecessary barriers to the federal assistance that is so critical to enabling students to pursue their academic and professional dreams.”

In all, the committee staff identified 111 schools whose instructions were misleading, Cummings said, including many of the top schools in the country, like Duke, Stanford, Notre Dame and every member of the Ivy League except Princeton. It also singled out the University of Southern California and Bard College as schools that clearly explain the distinctions between the two applications, and different sources of aid.

—Richard Pérez-peña, The New York Times

Native American groups call for investigation of child welfare procedures

DENVER — In a letter presented to government officials in Portland, Ore., the groups said that a federal law intended to keep Indian children from being removed from their families was being routinely sidestepped.

In their letter, the groups wrote that a lack of federal oversight had led to Indian children being improperly placed with non-Indian families by child welfare workers and that tribal representatives were too often left out of custody proceedings. The call for an investigation comes at a time when a law enacted to end the practice of separating Indian children from their parents and placing them in boarding schools and foster homes, the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, has come under greater scrutiny.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a dispute between the Cherokee father of a child and her white adoptive parents, who lost custody after the father stepped forward to say he had not realized she would be put up for adoption. In that case, the court ruled 5-4 that the child should not have been taken from the adoptive parents, because her father had relinquished his parental rights before her birth and because her biological mother had agreed to the adoption.

Last week, a federal judge in South Dakota approved class action status for a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two tribes and Indian parents in Pennington County. The suit alleges that Native American children in the county are being removed from their homes in custody hearings, without sufficient protections.

—Dan Frosch, The New York Times