Op-ed: The New FAFSA

I was perusing The Chronicle of Higher Education and found an article relaying the changes that are being implemented this year for FAFSA applications. In “A New Financial-Aid Timeline Could Reshape Admissions. Here’s How Colleges Are Preparing” by Beckie Supiano, she elucidates on the potential impacts the “early FAFSA” may bring from both an institutional perspective and student focus. She concisely states that the particular advantages would be the extra time students and parents have to weigh their financial aid packages and alludes to the disadvantages institutions face by possibly having to revise their policies and timelines for incoming students.There was no main question per say but rather a list of subsidiary questions revolving around the anxiety of instituting new federal policy. Uncertain of the potential ramifications, she asks how it will affect admissions deadlines, financial aid policies, and communications with families. Although limited, her conceptual framework would then be the socioeconomic implications of the new FAFSA.

However, excluded from her narrative is the direct mention of the change:  the new FAFSA will use financial aid information from the past two years and why this move was made. For instance, if there are major financial adjustment (for example, a divorce) then this would affect the estimated award; whereas, previously, the last year was only used. Supiano casually avoids the specific details and ramifications of the FAFSA changes. Instead, she is nebulous and refers to how different universities may or may not respond to the new FAFSA.

This article piqued my interest because of my background as a college advisor for high school students. If FAFSA truly wanted to save money (as the award has not increased relative to college costs, another fact Supiano avoids mentioning), then it should institute a GPA restriction as well as a residency requirement of at least two years. Working with different demographics, I have seen students barely passing high school, who came over from Cuba and who have lived only three months in the States, receive full awards; however, the lower middle-class student with perfect grades often times gets zilch. Another issue: some families circumvent the system by placing only one parent on the IRS tax form with that parent claiming the child(ren). This is a way some middle-class families (who are generally seen as too wealthy by the federal government) get some aid. Families may still try to “work” the system knowing the two-year rule, but nonetheless, this well-known loophole was one of the reasons that FAFSA wanted to redress and again another Supiano oversight.

This political undertone was entirely ignored in the Chronicle’s piece, yet it is essential to the background of FAFSA and its history. As a result, the article primarily falls on the change category, but it should fall under the conflict category as well. It does not, because the author was myopic in her assessment of the changes FAFSA brings and entirely ignored the debate ensconcing it.

The alterations to FAFSA affect higher education in that the advisors and recruiters who are the direct lines will have to alter their “pitches” to elucidate parents on the impact of financial aid. It affects the entire university who may have to reevaluate deadlines, offers of admissions, and revise how financial aid is doled out. It affects the families of these students who do not understand the “true” cost of college but see it as the automatic next step following high school. There will be much discussion about FAFSA included within the larger debate of the price of college, as many answers are unknown and will not be known till the new process is rolled out. Although, the article was balanced, it was too narrow and did not fully delineate the current issues with federal aid from either a student or institutional perspective.