The new filing date for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid will benefit current high school seniors applying for financial aid, according to United States Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. at a White House press briefing Thursday.
The new opening date, Oct. 1 — three months ahead of the application’s former Jan. 1 opening — delivered on President Barack Obama’s promise announced last September to provide a greater window for timely financial aid information to high school students and their families.
The FAFSA, released annually, determines the eligibility of college students for federal grants, loans and work-study funds based on information provided from a family’s tax returns from the previous year.
According to King, moving up the FAFSA release will contribute toward making the college process easier, more accessible and more affordable for American families by allowing them to provide the federal government with information confirmed by the IRS.
“These changes to the FAFSA will help provide better information to families earlier to inform their decisions about where to go to college and also how they’ll be able to afford college,” King said. “These changes also mean accessing financial aid for a good-value school will be easier and faster, because students will be able to complete the FAFSA with information directly from their 2015 tax returns, information that the IRS has already verified.”
Previously, when the FAFSA was released in January, families either waited for their tax return from the just-completed calendar year or filled in the FAFSA with guesswork and estimation.
King framed the new FAFSA release date as the next step in Obama’s efforts to make higher education more accessible.
“These critical steps have helped open the door to a college education for millions of Americans,” King said. “But they’re just one piece of the administration’s long track record of fighting to expand educational opportunity for Americans of all ages.”
King claimed since Obama’s arrival in office in 2009, students have filed more than 160 million FAFSAs, and the average completion time for the FAFSA has been cut nearly in half.
King said the Obama administration is not only seeking to make applying to college easier. It has also worked on reducing the cost of college for middle and low-income Americans at a time when tuitions are on the rise.
“The administration has also made historic investments to keep college affordable for hard-working students and families, ending wasteful subsidies for banks and giving tens of billions back to students,” King said. “Pell Grants are more generous and are helping more students. The American Opportunity Tax Credit is cutting taxes for millions of families who are trying to afford college each year.”
King touched upon other Obama administration initiatives concerning higher education, such as the Every Student Succeeds Act signed last winter, which modified the No Child Left Behind Act leftover from the presidency of George W. Bush. ESSA transferred many of the accountability provisions allotted to the federal government in NCLB to individual states.
Since Republicans generally support limitations on federal power, preferring to grant state and local governments more control over policy, King said Obama’s education initiatives have bridged political divides and achieved bipartisan support.
King said the Obama Administration considers graduation rates important as well. Obama has proposed financial incentives to needy students who enroll in at least 15 credits per semester — thereby staying on track to graduate.
“We know even as we grapple with issues of access and affordability, ensuring that students who start college actually finish is critical to ensuring that they are able to manage their debt,” King said.
Government professor Douglas Reed, who is also the new director of Georgetown’s Educational Transformation Master’s Program, a program that prepares students to teach, advocate for education and understand policy, praised the Obama administration for easing some of the incongruities that occur when financial aid deadlines do not align with FAFSA deadlines.
“I think the good thing about this is it gives families more time to get the FAFSA in, but it also means that there’s not a big scramble in January when you have to look at last year’s income and figure out what you’re going to do,” Reed said. “Any time you get more time to fill out the forms, that’s a good thing.”
However, Reed said other problems persist with the Obama administration’s record on college financial aid.
“I’m worried we’re not paying attention to the real goal, which is making sure everyone who is able to go to college can afford to go,” Reed said. “While it’s good to make some bureaucratic adjustments on FAFSA, we have to really pay attention to the real problem, which is access and tuition.”
Luis Gonzalez (COL ’19), who is pursuing a career in education, lauded the Obama administration for implementing policies allowing low-income families more time to weigh different options for financial aid.
“From personal experience, I have seen how much disparity there is between schools with a high percentage of low-income, minority students compared to schools in more affluent communities,” Gonzalez wrote in an email to The Hoya. “In terms of the Obama administration, I think they’ve done a great job pushing for high school graduates to be ready for college and for a career.”
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