We’re coming up on an important counseling anniversary, and there’s something you can do to celebrate it. It’s been two years since students applying for financial aid have been able to file their forms October 1 of their senior year, instead of January 1. The three-month head start has been a real help for cost-conscious families, since the FAFSA provides an estimate of what the family’s share of college costs will be. Combined with the ability to check a box to complete the required financial information, FAFSA use has increased significantly, and this year promises another year of growth.
Counselors know that some growth comes only with challenges, and it turns out that’s the case with FAFSA. It’s great news more students are applying for aid—thanks in part to the smartphone app that allows you to track FAFSA—But more applicants means more people to serve, more facts to double-check, and more students whose claims need to be verified. Add in an increasing number of low-income students whose parents didn’t file a tax form, and it’s easy to see how these improvements create opportunities for more headaches—but also, for more improvement.
Enter the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Senior senators on the committee have introduced a bill that would allow the IRS and the US Department of Educationto share more financial information about FAFSA filers. These changes would speed up the verification process for thousands of FAFSA applicants, and it would make it easier for non-IRS filers to get through verification as well. Other changes would speed up approval for more people to use income-based repayment plans, reducing the paperwork and hassle often associated with paying off student loans.
This is where you come in. The bill has passed the Republican-led Senate, and is now awaiting action in the Democratic-led House. Democrats tend to be champions of easier, more responsive government, so it’s not clear what the holdup is—but you can help break it. This websiteallows you to enter some basic information that’s used to craft a letter to your Representative, urging them to pass this bill and make further improvements to financial aid. This will likely take five minutes—about the time one of your students currently needs just to start their FAFSA. Write the letter, urge four of your friends to do the same, and let’s move financial aid forward in another important way.
What’s that, you say? You were hoping I’d say something about the changes to the US News rankings? Since they still don’t talk to students, they’re still completely irrelevant, so in my mind, they haven’t changed at all. How’s that?