Part One: Confusing perspectives, complicated timelines
Recently, Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland issued a report that known as out 111 private colleges designed for publishing financial aid instructions that failed to clearly explain that the FAFSA was the only application students needed to distribute to secure federal financial aid. In our February 6 th blog post , all of us pointed out that Representative Cummings’s claim about these instructions, while accurate, has been more likely to hurt lower income students than help them because federal money are not the largest source of financial aid designed for students from low and center income households.
Considering that Representative Cummings’s report was issued, a vocal group of critics have made an incredible assertion: that will colleges which require students to deliver more information than the FAFSA collects have got erected an almost insurmountable barrier to school access for students from cheaper and middle income families . I would like to praise the colleges that will recognize that the FAFSA is inadequate to assess a student’s family’s ability to pay and ask the federal government in order to reverse the recent FAFSA simplification trend by adding questions to this vital federal form.
As regular readers of the College Coach blog know, I am a college finance specialist who was a financial aid official at MIT and Babson College before coming to College Coach, where I work with families planning to deliver their children to college. And obviously, We are also a taxpayer who wants his federal government and state tax dollars for use wisely and for clearly defined purposes. In my opinion in higher education and believe that financial aid programs are instrumental in making university accessible to students at all earnings levels.
Why feel I telling you this? Because I will make the unpopular case that the Totally free Application for Federal Student Aid (the FAFSA) is too simple to satisfy its goal. The form is used to give colleges a sense of a family’s ability to pay for college, but it fails to fulfill this objective. It ought to inquire more questions in order to accomplish its goal.
If you’ve finished the FAFSA, or just heard about it from others who have, you must end up being shaking your head in disbelief right now. But give me a chance to convince a person.
I firmly believe that the FAFSA is a simple type to complete for parents of college upperclassmen, who are usually asked to distribute it in the spring, after they have got filed their taxes. Parents of first year students, on the other hand, are usually asked to complete the form before they have got had a chance to complete their income tax returns for the relevant year. Apr 15 th is not only the deadline for finishing income taxes for the year, but it is also a deadline colleges have set designed for themselves to answer all applicants’ admissions and financial aid applications. Colleges need to set a FAFSA deadline day for first year students that is earlier than the income tax deadline, so that they have time to process the form by April 15 th . Families struggle with the FAFSA not really because the questions are hard, but because of this timing issue!
Here’s an example: The 2014-2015 FAFSA asks, “What was your parents’ adjusted gross income for 2013? Adjusted gross income is on IRS Type 1040—line 37; 1040A—line 21; or 1040EZ—line 4. ” This is a fairly straightforward question on May 1st, after the applicant’s parents have filed their income tax returns. But it’s pretty tough to answer on January 30th, before the income tax returns were filed. The question is not hard, but conference the college’s deadline is!
So why do I say the shape is too simple? Because as a taxpayer who wants his tax dollars for use wisely and for clearly defined purposes, I actually do not believe the FAFSA requires enough questions of a student candidate to make sure that limited financial aid funds are likely to the right students. I have several worries about information the FAFSA fails to collect. In my next blog, I will propose adding two questions towards the FAFSA that I think can go a long way toward making the form more extensive.
Check back later on this week as Robert continues the conversation by outlining two important shortcomings of the FAFSA in identifying how financial aid is allocated.