Improving College Accessibility With A Simple Reform

"[W]hat if students could apply for financial aid in the beginning of their senior year—using their family's tax information from one calendar year earlier?" National Journal asks.

"This would allow applicants—particularly those who plan to attend a public college or university—to learn much more about their financial-aid packages far sooner than they currently do. ...

Right now, January is the earliest that students can fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid—and that's assuming their parents have filed their taxes early for the year just ended. Often, families file later. This means that some students don't receive their financial-aid packages until just a few weeks before the enrollment deadlines for most colleges. That's too late for many students, says Megan McClean, director of policy and federal relations for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. 'A lot of times, our low-income students are first-generation, and they're the first ones to go to college,' she says. 'It's better to have more time for the process.' …

Last year, McClean's group conducted an in-depth review of 160,000 FAFSA applications. It found that about 70 percent of grantees would see no change in their awards if they used the 'prior prior' year's income on their applications. About 20 percent of grantees would see a change of more than $1,000, up or down, in their federal grants. Everyone else would see smaller changes.

All told, the researchers said that 3 million grantees could see their federal financial aid affected if the tax year is pushed back. That must be taken into consideration, McClean acknowledges. But she notes that financial-aid administrators could change awards on a case-by-case basis if, for example, an applicant's parent loses his or her job between the two tax years.

And for everyone else? Figuring out how to pay for college—an incredibly stressful and daunting process for many low-income students—could end up being easier."

NASFAA's "Financial Aid in the News" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.