FAFSA Dependency Override Bill Causes Some Concern

By Allie Bidwell, NASFAA Senior Reporter

A bicameral group of lawmakers recently introduced a pair of bills in the House and Senate intended to help ease the process of applying for federal financial aid for students who do not have contact with their parents.

The bill, the FAFSA Fairness Act of 2018, was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). A companion bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). The bill would allow students who do not have contact with their parents to submit their FAFSA applications with a "provisionally independent" status, essentially applying for a dependency override. The institutions would then be able to calculate and deliver provisional aid packages to the students.

"We want all students to have an opportunity to achieve their dream of a higher education," Cardin said in a statement. "Students with difficult personal and financial circumstances should have the same chance as their peers to make informed financial decisions and comparison shop for the highest quality, yet most affordable, option for college available to them."

Cummings said in a statement that students who have escaped abusive homes or have incarcerated parents, for example, could stand to benefit.

These students, he said, "should have the same opportunities as their classmates who have not faced these obstacles. Instead, these students frequently abandon their goal of attending college because of the often long and complicated process of applying for student aid. This bill will help prevent our financial aid process from continuing to be an unintended barrier to higher education."

After the bill's release, some in the financial aid community expressed concern online, saying that while the bill has good intentions, it could cause some unintended consequences.

Some institutions also told NASFAA that while they appreciated the goal of relieving the burden of going through a dependency override for students—particularly those applying to multiple schools—they were concerned about a potential "bait and switch" perception. If a student was ultimately not approved for the dependency override, for example, the institution may have to revise and presumably reduce the student’s aid package. The timing of aid package revision could also be problematic, they said, if a student has already committed to attend an institution or has already started classes.

Some institutions also worried that students might not understand under which circumstances they would qualify for a dependency override, and wondered whether more students would be completing the FAFSA without parental information.

The bills come at a time when lawmakers continue to look for ways to simplify and streamline the process for applying for federal student aid. Generally, the idea of FAFSA simplification has been one of few that has garnered bipartisan support.

"Financial difficulties should never prevent a student from getting a good education. Yet for many young people, the financial aid process is unnecessarily confusing and burdensome," Van Hollen said in a statement. "This legislation would simplify the process and help students make informed decisions about their academic careers. I hope we can act on this common-sense proposal without delay."


Publication Date: 4/2/2018

Theodore M | 4/2/2018 4:25:49 PM

There is already a way on the FAFSA to indicate that a student can't get parental information that should trigger communication. The intentions are excellent, but this is a swing and a miss.

Tracy B | 4/2/2018 2:16:03 PM

probably most of these will go to rich kids who are in a tiff with parents and want to show them whose in charge. They'll just say they can't (actually just don't want to) contact their parents and be independent.

Thomas V | 4/2/2018 1:59:05 PM

Let the existing PJ system do what it was created for. The intention of the bill is good, but the potential for abuse, confusion and significantly increasing our current workload on appeals makes this a wasteful proposal overall.

Barrington M | 4/2/2018 1:42:37 PM

Any PJ specialist will agree, that the incidences of abuse of this new system (law) would triple overnight.

Kevin J | 4/2/2018 12:30:37 PM

This seems to be unneeded legislation for the professional judgment allows us already to consider abuse and neglect. If this legislation is passed, you eliminate the need for professional judgment and would create a less flexible system, which would would probably have the unintended consequences of helping less students.

Billy B | 4/2/2018 11:35:46 AM

Honestly I'm reminded of the new Independent status rules. When we first started tracking we found that a tiny percentage were legitimate. With that said one small aspect has potential. If they would only require the student to submit and be approved at one school (and that school would be listed so we could contact them). Maybe some rules to require justification to deny the appeal approved at another school we could tentatively award at all schools in that case. We have noticed some files because the appeal can't be processed by the state deadline (requiring an accepted FAFSA)

David S | 4/2/2018 11:19:35 AM

Well, both Rachel M (one of the really smart #FAchat people) and David Sheridan (usually a long-winded, over-opinionated blowhard) hit the nail on the head on this; there is way too much room for students, lacking specific, easily understandable guidance, or in some cases trying to game the system (and I'm not going to guess which is more prevalent) to make an already complicated aid application process that much more complicated. This will lead to students being misled into thinking they can more or less "declare" independent status.

Those of us of a certain age have seen umpteen overhauls of what makes a student independent, and no matter how "independent" is defined, there are lots of students who will say "none of this applies to me, but I really am independent." In some cases, they may be right, and if so, there's a process in place to make it work. But in other cases, they are wrong, and if you give them a way to get the process started as pseudo-independent, it's only going to slow down everything by having to fix them. And guess who's going to be the bad guy in every one of those cases?

Linda J | 4/2/2018 10:28:37 AM

I see too much abuse with approval. I have always agree with the fact that there are circumstances to which this should be allowed, but you are making exceptions to the rules and that is not fair to the others students either.

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