Disadvantaged Students May Face New Obstacle When Applying for Financial Aid

Sep 14, 2007

The Education Department recently announced a change to the way they will be handling the FAFSA, the required application form for student aid. Some education advocates worry the alteration will make it more difficult for disadvantaged students to apply for the aid needed to pay for college.

Summary of the FAFSA Change

  • As of next year, the Department of Education will eliminate the distribution of paper applications in order to encourage use of the electronic version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students will only be able to get paper applications by special request.

Each year, Federal Student Aid prints and distributes millions of unused FAFSA forms. Only 500,000 paper applications--a small fraction of what was distributed--were submitted for processing for the 2007-2008 year.

'The department has concluded that rather than print 14 million forms and send them all over the country, only to have most of them end up being recycled, they would be much further ahead to go to an all-electronic FAFSA and print a small number of paper copies that they will make available to people and organizations that request them,' according to Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education.

The change will most certainly reduce paper waste, but some advocates worry the extra step will prove to be just one more obstacle for disadvantaged students.

'It's cheaper for the department, and I completely understand the point about paper going to landfills,' says Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. 'But I also worry a lot about an additional step that poor kids have to take in order to access federal aid.'

The Real Obstacle Disadvantaged Students Face

Although the change to the way FAFSA applications are handled may make the application process more inconvenient for some students, the true obstacle lies in the complexity of the form itself.

The FAFSA, with its more than 100 questions, is longer than many applications for auto loans, credit cards, and even some home loans. The language used in the form is so intricate that an educated tax advisor could have a hard time deciphering it.

According to an American Council on Education study, 1.8 million low to moderate income undergraduates did not submit applications for federal aid for the 2003-2004 school years, due in part to the complexity of the form.

There is also the fact that aid does not necessarily go to the students who need it most, but to the students who are best able to fill out the form. This is why thousands of parents pay special consultants to assist with the FAFSA every year.

Congress is currently in the act of developing a two-page long EZ form (three pages less than the original), but whether it will get done this year or not is still up in the air.

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