Is FAFSA finally changing for the better?

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Applying for FAFSA has always been a long, convoluted process that most students dread. However, since 2021, a major redesign of the application and eligibility criteria has been in the works. The FAFSA Simplification Act (FSA) is coming soon, and it’s the change that students have been desperately needing. 

Congress passed the FSA as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act. The goal was to redesign the formulas and criteria that determine how much aid one receives, streamline the application process, and improve accessibility.

The Congressional Research Service explained that FSA will replace the estimated family contribution (EFC) with a student aid index (SAI). SAI will decide if a student is eligible for financial aid using a modified formula that doesn’t consider certain factors that were used in EFC calculations. It will also allow to 

Changes like the EFC being replaced with SAI will be life-changing for many students. Nicholas Hsiao, a former mechanical engineering student at UNLV, shared, “In my opinion, the estimated family contribution was a bad measurement. My parents never helped me with a single penny, but because they made a certain amount of money, I was not given a Pell Grant.”

He continued, “Without financial aid, I couldn’t afford to go to school this year. I had to work 32-hour weeks while going to school last year and was then told I was ineligible because I made ‘too much’ money when I really didn’t.” Hsiao is planning to reapply for FAFSA the next application cycle to, hopefully, return to UNLV in fall 2024 under the changes FSA is promising

It is common for students to miss out on potential financial aid because they are classified as a dependent under parents with average incomes. Computer science senior Miguel Baniqued stated, “I was filed as a dependent and my parents made ‘enough’ money, so I couldn’t qualify.” To afford school, Baniqued had to resort to joining the army reserves to receive the Montgomery GI bill. He then added, “When I turned 24, I was finally able to file as independent and qualify for aid.”

To address issues similar to Baniqued’s, the FSA will increase the income protection allowance (IPA) levels for parents of dependent students by around 20 percent and 35 percent for the dependent students themselves. This allowance will allow for more families to be considered during SAI calculations.

In regard to the application process, the FSA expects to streamline the process by reducing the amount of questions on the FAFSA. In the past, the application consisted of over 100 questions. Christeen Witt, a sophomore at UNLV, shared, “It is a frustrating, long, and confusing process. I’m lucky enough to know people who have dealt with FAFSA in the past who can help me.” 

Though she may have been fortunate to have help, many students do not. Almost half of FAFSA applicants were first-generation students in the 2020-2021 academic year, as per Bankrate. Most first-gen students do not have people who can teach them how to navigate FAFSA, so reducing the amount of questions will relieve a lot of stress. 

To further simplify the process, FAFSA will also be utilizing data collected directly from the IRS to calculate the SAI and eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant for students. Thanks to the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act (FUTURE Act), these simple data exchange methods will be required for the 2024-2025 FAFSA application. 

Another notable change is that FAFSA will be made available in eleven of the most common languages spoken by students and their parents. Previously, it was only able to be read in English or Spanish. This will make the process more simple and accessible for those who speak other languages.

Applications for the 2024-2025 FAFSA award year will open up in December 2023. For students who depend on federal aid to afford college, please consider taking the time to further research the projected changes on the FAFSA website. Additionally, it would be beneficial to reach out to the UNLV financial aid office for more information on how said changes may affect students. 

The FSA act is a beacon of hope for many and the change that students have been desperately needing.

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