COURTESY OF: WAYNE TALIAFERRO Clasp.org
The new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), released on October 1 for the 2017-2018 school year, includes numerous changes that will benefit students, particularly independent adults. In addition to extending the filing period by three months, which will allow students to get information much sooner, the Department of Education (ED) has simplified the application process to make it easier to complete.
By opening the filing period 90 days earlier than last year (a change that will continue in the future), ED has enabled students to make more informed decisions about financial planning and where to enroll. Another important change is allowing students to report their household income and asset information using their prior year’s tax returns, which will be accessible through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Starting this year, students receiving Medicaid will qualify for the Simplified Needs Test (SNT), an alternative FAFSA filing method used to automatically qualify a student for the maximum Pell award based on their receipt of means-tested public benefits.
These changes will significantly reduce FAFSA’s complexity, a concern cited for decades by higher education advocates. Independent adult students—who make up an increasing share of college students, frequently juggle school with work and family obligations, and are often low income—will see the most benefit from the simpler application.
The new FAFSA, combined with recent federal and state investments in college access and completion initiatives, are important steps in the right direction. But there are still too many barriers for low-income and independent adult students, including remaining issues with the FAFSA filing process. The application remains overly complex, and award limits and eligibility requirements are still too strict. Low-income students continue to have low FAFSA filing and completion rates. Indeed, one-third of students who do not complete the FAFSA are Pell grant eligible. Further, federal student aid is still largely unresponsive to today’s students, independent adults in particular. CLASP looks forward to working with government and higher education institutions to ensure all students have an opportunity to earn postsecondary credentials.