By Levar Alonzo
Starting October of 2016, college bound high school seniors will be able to file for federal financial aid for college three months earlier than the current system allows under President Barack Obama’s plan is to make it easier and less stressful on students wondering on how to pay for college.
Over the past year Obama has announced several sweeping changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA. The changes allow students and parents to fill out the tax portion of the form with the prior years tax information in a system called prior. By just the click of a button the Internal Revenue System will fill out the prior years tax returns rather than waiting for the student to input the upcoming year’s return.
This all comes as a continuation to the president’s 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act that authorized fee-based FAFSA preparations. Fee-based FAFSA preparers by law have to let the students know of the free options available to them.
“Applying for financial aid has been so cumbersome and poorly timed that many students don’t bother,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article. “Each year about 2 million students who would have qualified for federal Pell Grants don’t apply.”
The FAFSA is used to determine federal aid eligibility for Pell Grants for low income students and eligibility for subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford Loans, as well as small state grants.
Students start to apply for college in the fall of the previous year and are able to apply for federal aid starting January of the next year. Under the current system students apply for college before they know if they will be able to afford the cost. FAFSA calls for 80-some lines of information, and some simple mathematical calculations, which can prove be a deterrent. The form’s complexity has prevented some students’ parents from completing it, thus depriving the children of their best chance at college.
“One of the reasons I’m not at my first choice of college was a mix between my financial aid not arriving soon enough, trying to make it correct as possible and me not being able to meet the deadline for the college of my choice,” said T’andra Cunningham, freshman Psychology major at York College. “In a way I had to settle on York.”
The current system particularly deters high achievers from lower income families from applying to colleges they could possibly get into because of finances. The National Bureau of Economic Research showed that low-income, higher achievers tend not to apply to selective colleges. Being extremely likely to be admitted with financial aid so generous that they would pay less than they do to attend the non-selective school.
These changes to the application will benefit students by aligning more with the college application process and giving students more time to weigh out their financial options. Also, with the added time the process provides for more accuracy on the application with more opportunities given to plan out estimated income or taxes.
“You’ll know sooner how much aid you qualify for and you’ll have more time to evaluate your options,” said Obama at his back to school rally for high school junior and seniors in Iowa.
These FAFSA changes come on the heels of another big push from the White House called “The College Scorecard.” It isn’t a rating or ranking system but a massive collection of data that students and parents can use to judge colleges for themselves. This added data includes topics that range from paying for college, paying down principal on loans and the average earnings of a school’s graduate.
“These new changes that the president is making in the education sector is a great step forward, not only financial wish but by focusing on the young American future,” said Sabrina Kamal 45, an H&R Block accountant.