WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Jack Reed today commended the Obama Administration for making a series of needed changes that will simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application process and make applying for financial aid easier for college-bound students and their families. Reed urged these changes in a letter to the White House in June, arguing that families needed more reliable information earlier in the college admissions process to make the best and most informed decisions possible.
The new White House initiative will allow students and families to apply for financial aid earlier, starting in October as the college application process gets underway, rather than in January. In addition, students filling out the FAFSA will be able to electronically retrieve tax information filed for an earlier year, known as “prior-prior year” data, rather than waiting until tax season to complete their applications. Together these changes will help families learn about financial aid eligibility much earlier in the college decision process, allowing them to take financial aid into account and make the best decision possible about their higher education plans.
“Students deserve a fair shot at an affordable education and these changes will help families tremendously. Under the current system, students apply for college before they can apply for financial aid, leaving them without the critical information they need to fully weigh college costs. Having the relevant financial aid information earlier in the process should help students and families, especially lower income and first-generation students, to make better, more informed decisions and compare college options and costs,” said Senator Reed, who has led the effort in Congress to simplify the FAFSA to help ensure more students can complete the form and get financial aid. “I will continue working to make college more affordable and the financial aid process easier for students and families.”
Reed was part of a group of Senate Democrats who urged the White House to move forward with these changes, outlined in a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan in June. Joining with his colleagues, Reed urged the Administration to take action: “Given the enormous benefits to students, families, and institutions of higher education, we strongly urge you to use your authority to allow the use of prior-prior year data on the FAFSA. This is an opportunity for swift and consequential action to support low- and- middle-income students seeking a shot at the American dream through higher education, and would allow the federal government to simplify the process that millions of students and families experience when applying for aid. It will also support informed decision-making about college options, and help students receive the financial aid they need to complete a degree or credential,” the Senators wrote.
An estimated 2 million students who are enrolled in college and would be eligible for a Pell Grant never apply for aid, and an unknown number failed to enroll in college because they did not know that aid was available. A study released in January by the web site NerdWallet found that Rhode Island students left $7.6 million on the table in the 2013-2014 school year because they neglected to apply for federal aid. Rhode Island students were not alone — nationwide, more than $2.9 billion in grants were not accessed by students across the country, according to the report, including: $41 million in Massachusetts, $23 million in Connecticut, $12.5 million in Maine, $8.7 million in New Hampshire, and $6.4 million in Vermont.
According to the White House, over 6 million students and parents took advantage of the ability to electronically retrieve their income information from the IRS when completing their 2014-2015 FAFSA, improving both speed and accuracy in the application process. Today, students and families on average fill out the FAFSA in about 20 minutes, only one third of the time it took seven years ago.