Filing changes to FAFSA

The Obama administration announced several changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) last week in an ongoing effort “to make it easier than ever before to apply for and access federal grants and loans.”

The FAFSA is a form used by U.S. Department of Education to determine the amount of financial contribution expected by a family and the eligibility of college students for financial aid, according to Student Financial Aid Services Inc.

FAFSA applications have been limited in the past by the application’s start date and timing of tax filings for the year, according to the White House. Applications previously required parents to complete their tax returns before the student could complete their application.

“Students filling out the FAFSA will be able to electronically retrieve tax information filed for an earlier year, rather than waiting until tax season to complete their applications,” the White House said.

Starting Oct. 1, 2016, students will be able to submit FAFSA information for the 2017-18 school year.

“We don’t have guidelines at this time on verification or how the U.S. Department of Education is going to handle their fiscal year allocations to institutions,” ENMU director of financial aid Brent Small said.

Changes to FAFSA will cause several procedural changes within the ENMU’s financial aid department, Small said.

According to Small, the changes affecting the department will mostly consist of new processing dates and deadlines.

“We’ll convey information to the students as soon as it is relevant to them,” Small said. “Of course this will be for applicants during the 2017-18 award year.”

Nicholas Gilbert, a freshman accounting major, said an earlier application date will be helpful for students.

“I think it will help people find out what kind of aid they are going to get earlier,” Gilbert said.

In addition to changes in application dates, representatives for the White House announced “the President will renew his call on Congress to pass legislation to simplify FAFSA even further.”

If successful, approximately 30 questions will be removed from FAFSA, according to White House reports.

Sydney Shilling, 18, said she feels FAFSA is “a lengthy process” for her parents.

“I would feel more obligated to do it myself if it was a simpler process with less questions,” Shilling said.

Students planning to attend college can also take advantage of the online database College Scorecard after determining their cost of attendance, according to the press release. College Scorecard compiles information on the costs of attendance, graduation rates, student debt and what graduates are earning after graduation for colleges nationwide. The College Scorecard website prompts it’s users with a custom search for finding a college based on factors such as programs, location and size. After finding a school that fits their criteria, students can see the average annual cost, graduation rates and post-graduate salaries of the college.

Cost of attendance is broken into several categories to determine the amount of debt they might have after graduation and what the payments on those loans will be. For students looking to find information on student body size and the socio-economic diversity, the website shows percentages of race, ethnicity and the average family incomes of students attending the university. College Scorecard lists typical SAT and ACT test scores of students attending the college and the available areas of study.

“I think the principle and intent behind the College Scorecard was wonderful so that students have a uniform platform to compare schools with,” Small said.

Shilling said affordability and the communication program are what attracted her to Eastern New Mexico University.

“If I had known about [College Scorecard], I would probably have used it,” Shilling said.

Gilbert said location of the university was a major factor in choosing Eastern as a school. He said he believes the database will be useful for incoming students.

“I think cost is something that is in the forefront of most people’s decisions when they look at a school,” Small said. “Cost is always something that should be considered.”

“Debt has to be considered,” assistant director of financial aid Jan Terry-Sanchez said.“Everybody would like to go to the college that is their number one pick, but it’s not always feasible financially.”

Small and Terry-Sanchez agree that students should choose the school that they are most comfortable with financially and fully understand the costs they can incur by attending that school.

“It will be interesting to see how this is implemented,” Small said. “I think it’s great for the students that they can make a decision earlier and have a longer window of decision making.”

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