FAFSA rules to change

Next year, students will be allowed to fill out their FAFSAs starting in October.

Benjamin Farniok

When Katie Sivanich sat down with her parents last year to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, she thought her awarded funds would arrive earlier.
 
The University of Minnesota political science freshman didn’t find out what aid she would receive until several months later.
 
“In choosing which school to go to, that was what I was waiting for,” Sivanich said. 
 
Last week, President Barack Obama announced that, starting next year, students will be able to apply for loans and scholarships through the FAFSA as early as October, instead of the current date of Jan. 1.
 
Moving up the date will allow students to make plans for school earlier because they’ll know what aid they’ll receive sooner, Obama said to a crowd in Des Moines, Iowa, last week.
 
He said the change, which will go into effect next October, could open the door for thousands of potential students to receive aid.
 
With the update, families can use their tax information from the previous year — instead of the current year — to fill out FAFSA forms. 
 
Computer science freshman Ellie Burns said she didn’t find out how much aid she was going to receive until April. While the actual amount was accurate to what she estimated, the date wasn’t as early as she wanted.
 
“I think it would be nice to know a little earlier; it lets you see if there [are] other scholarship options to look for or apply, just to help pay for college,” she said
 
The change has been in the works for a long time, said Stephen Payne, federal relations associate for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. 
 
He said the U.S. Department of Education probably would have made the change itself if the president had not taken an executive action.
 
Obama also plans to encourage Congress to shorten the FAFSA to make it simpler to complete, according to a White House release. 
 
Payne said the proposed change would increase the number of students who file the form. But he said it’s important to balance simplicity with asking enough specific questions to make sure funding goes to the neediest students.
 
“We don’t necessarily view it as a drawback of this change if more students have the ability and capability of applying for federal financial aid,” he said.
 
However, Payne said a possible consequence of an increase in students filing for aid would be a higher burden on various financial aid programs — especially Federal Pell Grants. 
 
In a report from almost two years ago, the NASFAA recommended allowing families to use tax information from the previous year. 
 
In the same report, the organization also recommended to the Internal Revenue Service that it expand its data retrieval tool to make it easier to include tax information in the
FAFSA form. Last year, more than 6 million students made use of that tool.
 
Also last year, 72 percent of University of Minnesota students received aid of any type. Forty-four percent receive federal aid, according to the Office of Institutional Research.
 
Cinema studies freshman Emily Priddy said she had hoped she would have been awarded more but she said she otherwise did not have significant issues with her filing.
 
University administrators declined to comment on the change until it has been implemented.