Suggested FAFSA Changes Give Students More Power

Posted By Eliana Osborn on October 1, 2015 at 10:41 am
Suggested FAFSA Changes Give Students More Power

Scholarships, grants, and student loans all require one thing before you can even think about receiving money: the FAFSA.  The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a rite of passage for millions of current and prospective college students.  But it’s not easy – collecting the necessary information can be challenging, especially for families in the midst of change.  And recently proposed changes to the form are a welcome step in the direction of simplicity and accessibility.

One potential FAFSA change has to do with information given to prospective colleges.  In the past, if you ranked four schools that you were interested in, each school would see the other institutions.  This gave colleges insight into individual students’ college plans, perhaps altering university’s admissions or financial aid decisions about them.  On the 2016-17 form, however, students will still list codes for multiple places to send their information – but the school list won’t go out to other institutions.

The public can comment on this and other proposed FAFSA changes until mid-October.  Because FAFSA is a government institution, input from those affected is always requested.  With this particular change, state level agencies – generally involved in grants or scholarships – will still have access to the list of all colleges a student includes.  This loophole, potentially allowing some of the same conflicts of interest as old forms, may be an area where more change is needed.

Students put all their personal (and family) information on the line to be able to get financial help for higher education.  FAFSA is intrusive by nature, but the benefits to students are clear.  The college selection information is an exception, though – listing schools you are interested in should not be used against young people trying to enroll in school and get financial aid.

For students unsure if the hassle of FAFSA is worth it, the Department of Education has an estimate tool that allows students to do sample walk through.  If your parents are unwilling to cough up the specifics of their finances, this tool may help them see the benefits of filling out FAFSA.

Even if students are not eligible for grants, many schools use FAFSA as a first step toward scholarship eligibility.  If colleges are unable to see where else a studen has applied, they will have to come up with their best offer up front.  The advantage goes to the student, rather than the institution.

Higher education is one area of life where information is power.  Recently proposed FAFSA changes put more of that power into the hands of students, instead of colleges and universities who already have the upper hand.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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