Education department announces changes to FAFSA form

Mon­day, April 29, the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion announced that begin­ning with the 2014–2015 fed­eral stu­dent aid form, the Depart­ment will – for the first time – col­lect income and other infor­ma­tion  from a depen­dent student’s legal par­ents regard­less of the par­ents’ mar­i­tal sta­tus or gen­der, if those par­ents live together.

The 2014–2015 Free Appli­ca­tion for Fed­eral Stu­dent Aid, or FAFSA, will pro­vide a new option for depen­dent appli­cants to describe their par­ents’ mar­i­tal sta­tus as “unmar­ried and both par­ents liv­ing together.” Addi­tion­ally, where appro­pri­ate, the new FAFSA form will also use terms like “Par­ent 1 (father/mother/stepparent)” and “Par­ent 2 (father/mother/stepparent)” instead of gender-specific terms like “mother” and “father.”

All stu­dents should be able to apply for fed­eral stu­dent aid within a sys­tem that incor­po­rates their unique fam­ily dynam­ics,” said U.S. Sec­re­tary of Edu­ca­tion Arne Dun­can. “These changes will allow us to more pre­cisely cal­cu­late fed­eral stu­dent aid eli­gi­bil­ity based on what a student’s whole fam­ily is able to con­tribute and ensure tax­payer dol­lars are bet­ter tar­geted toward those stu­dents who have the most need, as well as pro­vide an inclu­sive form that reflects the diver­sity of Amer­i­can families.”

The FAFSA has long been con­structed to col­lect infor­ma­tion about a student’s par­ents only if the par­ents are mar­ried. As a result, the FAFSA has excluded income and other infor­ma­tion from one of the student’s legal par­ents (bio­log­i­cal or adop­tive) when the par­ents are unmar­ried, even if those par­ents are liv­ing together. Gender-specific terms also fail to cap­ture income and other infor­ma­tion from one par­ent when a student’s par­ents are in a same-sex mar­riage under state law but not fed­er­ally rec­og­nized under the Defense of Mar­riage Act.

The infor­ma­tion pro­vided on the FAFSA is used in the cal­cu­la­tion of the student’s expected fam­ily con­tri­bu­tion (EFC), which deter­mines a student’s eli­gi­bil­ity for fed­eral need-based stu­dent aid as well as for many state, insti­tu­tional and pri­vate aid pro­grams. It is crit­i­cal that both of a depen­dent student’s par­ents help pay, to the extent they are able, for the edu­ca­tional expenses of their child. Col­lect­ing parental infor­ma­tion from both of a depen­dent student’s legal par­ents will result in fair treat­ment of all fam­i­lies by elim­i­nat­ing long­stand­ing inequities based on par­ents’ rela­tion­ship with each other rather than on their rela­tion­ship with their child.

The col­lec­tion of infor­ma­tion from both of a depen­dent student’s par­ents is statu­to­rily sup­ported in the Higher Edu­ca­tion Act (HEA), which gen­er­ally includes the terms “par­ent” and “par­ents’” and not terms like “mother,” “father,” or “spouse.” This change will not impact the long­stand­ing and statu­to­rily required pro­vi­sion that when a depen­dent student’s par­ents are divorced, only infor­ma­tion on the par­ent that the stu­dent resided with for the greater por­tion of the 12 months pre­ced­ing the date of com­plet­ing the FAFSA is to be reported.

The col­lec­tion of FAFSA infor­ma­tion for both of a depen­dent student’s unmar­ried par­ents when both par­ents are liv­ing together will not impact the major­ity of fed­eral stu­dent aid appli­cants, either because they are inde­pen­dent stu­dents, or because they are depen­dent stu­dents  whose legal par­ents are mar­ried to each other or are unmar­ried and do not live with the other par­ent. While most stu­dents will be unaf­fected, the eli­gi­bil­ity of some depen­dent stu­dents will change. In most of these instances, the amount of need-based Title IV fed­eral stu­dent aid these stu­dents will receive will decrease because of the addi­tional income and other resources used in the cal­cu­la­tion of the student’s EFC. In a small num­ber of instances, the stu­dent would be eli­gi­ble for more aid because the off­set for an addi­tional per­son in the par­ents’ house­hold, a fac­tor in cal­cu­lat­ing the EFC, will exceed the income of the sec­ond parent.

The Depart­ment will pub­lish these changes this week in the Fed­eral Reg­is­ter for pub­lic com­ment as part of the draft 2014–2015 FAFSA. For more infor­ma­tion about fed­eral stu­dent aid, visit the Department’s web­site: studentaid.ed.gov

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