President Obama Tells Students There’s ‘No Excuse’ to Not Complete FAFSA

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

In a wide-ranging conversation on college access and affordability, President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan formally announced the simplification of the FAFSA application through the use of prior-prior year (PPY) income data.

Obama and Duncan spoke at a town hall meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, and answered questions from students and parents ranging from free community college, to financial aid for undocumented students, funding for the arts, and presidential candidates’ stances on education policy. The administration over the weekend released a revamped College Scorecard with more extensive data on student outcomes – including average earnings of former students, and more information on student loan repayment – and announced it would allow the use of PPY income data on the FAFSA for the 2017-18 school year. Students will now be able to submit their FAFSA applications as early as October 1, 2016, rather than January 1, 2017 – a move that will allow them to see their federal aid offers sooner, and ideally make better-informed decisions when applying to college.

“The bottom line is no young person in America should be priced out of college,” Obama said. He added that the FAFSA has already been shortened to about 20 minutes, due to skip logic that allows students to navigate more quickly through the form. But by moving the application date up to October 1, Obama said, students and families won’t have to wait months for information from W-2 forms to arrive in order to apply for federal aid.

“You have to fill out this form, and we are making it easier for you to do – you have no excuse,” Obama said.

The idea of using PPY information on the FAFSA has also garnered bipartisan support, although some legislators have said they would have liked to see the change come as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Still, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for a simplification of the application process, often referring to the fact that millions of students do not fill out the form each year, either due to its complexity or the timing.

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman Rep. John Kline (R-MN) and Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) issued a joint statement on the announcement Monday, and said streamlining the federal financial aid process “has long been a bipartisan priority.”

“This change will help students and families make smarter, more timely decisions about paying for a college education,” Kline and Foxx said. “But make no mistake, this announcement comes at a cost to taxpayers, and it seems the administration has no responsible plan to pay for it. We need reforms to higher education that serve the best interests of both students and taxpayers, and the best way to achieve that goal is to reform the law. That continues to be our priority, and, as we have said repeatedly, it’s time the administration joined that effort.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the minority leader of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement that moving up the application for federal aid will increase access so more students will “gain a foothold into the middle class.”

“Allowing students to apply for aid earlier and with more accurate financial information will help students and their families find affordable college options more easily and make better informed decisions about their educational careers,” Murray said in a statement.

Higher education institutions, policy groups – including NASFAA – and lawmakers have long advocated for PPY and have urged the Obama administration to use its existing authority to implement this common-sense change.

NASFAA has created two explanatory videos to help others understand this important policy change:

  • a quick and simple video schools can share to help students and families better understand how PPY will benefit them; and
  • a more in-depth video explaining why this move to PPY will not only allow students to have earlier information in order to make enrollment decisions, but will also give financial aid administrators some relief from mounting administrative burden and ensure they have more time to spend counseling students.

NASFAA National Chair Dan Mann of the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign attended the town hall meeting and said it was “an extreme honor” to represent financial aid administrators.

“It is very satisfying that another of our policy positions is going to be implemented,” Mann said. “The educators and administrators present were very excited about PPY and most were already thinking about how this will impact the timelines they now use and the changes they will need to make.”

Moving forward, NASFAA will be organizing a PPY Implementation Task Force to proactively identify implementation issues, while working with the Department of Education during the process, and is looking for volunteers. We also want to hear from you. In the comments section of this morning's Your Thoughts column, please share your perspective on what processes and procedures throughout the campus will be affected, what consumer information will need to be updated, and how this will affect our financial aid management systems.

NASFAA is also urging member institutions to support the move to PPY by signing onto a commitment to align their own processes to match the use of PPY on institutional forms. In less than 24 hours, NASFAA has already secured dozens of commitments from across the country.

Stay tuned to Today’s News for periodic updates on how many schools have committed to using PPY on their institutional applications and for other updates as they become available.


Publication Date: 9/15/2015

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