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Fafsa Makes Changes

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Article by Paige Stewart

A newspaper article by Susan Tompor, featured in the October 3 publication of USA Today, discusses recent modifications to the financial aid application process. These revisions were designed to facilitate the process for new and returning college students. Her article, entitled “Financial Aid Process Now Easier,” argues that these adjustments, in theory, will help students and their families receive all of the aid for which they are eligible.  However, only its implementation will reveal its true level of efficiency.

One of the major improvements highlighted in the article is the opening of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in October, as opposed to January, of the following year. Roanoke College’s Director of Financial Aid, Thomas Blair, provides insight into this significant change.

The adjustment, Blair explains, accommodates the large percentage of families that wish to know their aid package as soon as possible but have not yet completed their tax returns at the time of the FAFSA release date. The sooner families have access to all of their admissions decisions and financial aid awards, he adds, the sooner they can make their final decision about where to go to school.

While it is possible that this adjustment will allow families to view their aid packages earlier than before, it also invites several challenges for the financial aid officers building these packages behind the scenes. Because the FAFSA is now available at an earlier date, it requires income information from the previous year that is then applied to the upcoming academic year.

The FAFSA that was released on October 1 of this year, for example, considers financial information from 2015 to determine aid for the 2017-2018 school year. As a result, families can expect a two-year gap between how much money they currently have and how much they are expected to pay. Blair explains that the balance between reported and actual income can easily be tipped by family events like death or divorce. As a result, families constantly face the risk of being expected to pay more than they are able because their financial situation is not up to date.

This gap is just one of the hurdles that both families and financial aid officers must navigate as the FAFSA revisions are put into practice. Blair notes that it takes time to grow accustomed to these changes in the yearly aid calendar that they followed for years.

“Because we are in the first cycle, we are still learning too,” he comments.

The Brackety-Ack wishes students and the Office of Financial Aid alike success as they tackle the new FAFSA in years to come.