New FAFSA Underway

On Sept. 14, 2015, President Obama announced an executive order that would enact major changes in the free application for federal student aid, or the FAFSA. The changes will go into effect Oct. 1, 2016, for the 2017 enrollment year.
Prior to the changes, the FAFSA opened to high school seniors and returning college students on Jan. 1, and was to be completed with the prior year’s tax information. This process, however, was difficult because access to accurate tax data often wasn’t available until February or March. This required students to wait to submit an application, which could result in less aid or to complete the form with estimated data which may or may not be approved.
“If the estimates are off, that could make your financial package off,” Randy Green, executive director of financial aid, said, “Then, you could make a decision to attend or not attend based on inaccurate information.” Starting Oct. 2016, instead of using the previous year’s tax data to complete the form, students will be permitted to use tax information from the year prior to the prior year. So students filing an application for the fall of 2017 will be able to use tax data from 2015. This means that “for almost everybody, taxes are going to be done long before you need them for the FAFSA,” Green said, which “has great potential to make the application process easier with a lot more time to resolve issues.”
Also to begin in October, students will be able to access the FAFSA as early as the first of the month, not only giving prospective and returning students extra time to complete the form, but also the possibility of obtaining an actual financial aid package up to a year in advance.
For prospective students, this means “that halfway through [their] senior year [of high school], [they’ll] be able to do [their] FAFSA form, apply for admissions and get an actual financial aid package — not estimated — that tells exactly how much [they’re] going to have to pay to attend that school,” Green said.
This is new for higher education in that “the real price of college — what an individual student has to pay based on their financial aid package and costs — has always been much of a mystery until the last possible moment,” Green said.
And this makes sense, given the general consensus that college is costly. In his address to Georgia Tech in May, Obama said, “Higher education has never been more important, but it’s also never been more expensive.”
The truth is, when it comes to higher education, students are also consumers. The average Wittenberg student pays $25,000 per year in tuition, fees, room and board. Federal aid is used by 70 percent of Wittenberg students to finance their college experience. With this in mind, one potential benefit of the FAFSA change according to Green is that “students will be able to see much earlier what the real cost is going to be to attend the school and, hopefully, be able to make better, more informed decisions.”

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