Demystifying the FAFSA

September 22, 2015
  • AACRAO Connect
  • Financial Aid and FAFSA
Pie chart with the largest section labeled "financial aid" while the other sections lack a label.
The Obama Administration last Sunday announced a new initiative to make the federal financial aid application process earlier and easier.
 
Brings clarity to the process
“The Prior Prior Year (PPY) FAFSA means that students should have a clearer picture of their ability to afford a particular school before becoming emotionally invested in an institution beyond their financial capacity,” explained Roberta Johnson, Director of the Office of Student Financial Aid at Iowa State University.
 
Traditionally, students and their families had to wait until next year’s tax season to complete their FAFSAs and determine their financial aid.  According to the White House fact sheet, an estimated two million college students missed out on Pell Grants by not completing the FAFSA.
 
Starting next fall, students and families will be able to submit the FAFSA earlier using prior-prior year income data imported from the IRS.  As a result, parents may have access to their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as early as mid-October.  Families can better forecast college costs and have the time to seek additional scholarship opportunities to supplement the institution’s financial aid.  With these changes, the Obama Administration anticipates hundreds of thousands of additional students to apply for and claim Pell Grants and other financial aid, and save colleges and universities time spent on verifying FAFSA information.
 
Short and sweet
Other efforts announced by the Obama administration to simplify the FAFSA  include a renewed call on Congress to pass legislation reducing the number of questions included on the application.  
 
“One of the issues and challenges we face at my institution is getting people to apply for financial aid,” said Cassandra Moore, the Assistant Director of Enrollment Development and Admissions at Anne Arundel Community College.  Moore is also the Chair of the AACRAO Nominations & Elections Committee.  "We have a lot of first-generation community college students, many who do not fully understand the importance of filing the FAFSA or how to give all the required information on the application.  If the process can be simplified to gather the information we need to process their application, I say great.  Simplifying it may diminish the number of people who have verification or completion issues."
 
Fewer applicants?
However, changes come with their own set of consequences that colleges and universities should expect.  Jon Boeckenstedt, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing at DePaul University outlined some concerns in his op-ed article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
 
Families may weigh affordability alongside academic fit when making decisions in the college selection process, said Boeckenstedt.  Admissions officers will have to expect the subject of financial aid to be at the front of the admissions process, instead of punting the difficult conversation to the financial aid office.  As a result, colleges may find a decrease in applicant pools for the first time in a long time.  According to other proposed changes in the FAFSA, schools may no longer get much information on what other schools students have applied to.
 
“As good as this new approach is,” said Boeckenstedt, “it fails to fix the fundamental problem with aid, namely the formula that calculates eligibility for aid, and the one that leads to silly, bifurcated definitions of “need based” and “merit based” aid.  Despite those remaining flaws, it’s a good and important step in the right direction."
 
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