Sarah Henry
Student Writer

Not Difficult

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In a recent attempt to recognize college selection as nourishment for the mind that lasts a lifetime, President Obama has set plans through FAFSA to help pave the way toward a quality and cost-effective college experience.

To emphasize the importance of disseminating financial aid, President Obama is actively attempting to shorten the time required to fill out the FAFSA forms in order to encourage as many young people as possible to apply for higher education.

He has cut completion time to twenty minutes, two to three times shorter than it once was, and he is working to convince Congress in “eliminating up to 30 questions that are disproportionately burdensome and have little impact on aid eligibility,” according to the President’s Plan for Early Financial Aid.

“Although it may be true that some small number of people don’t complete the form because they find it too complicated and/or too time consuming, the facts do not support the idea that any significant number of people don’t attend college, or don’t receive certain forms of aid, because of this,” says Greg Gearhart of the Messiah College Financial Aid Office.

Gearhart speaks for Financial Aid Administrators as a whole as he expresses concern that “the form has, over the years, been simplified to the point that it does not adequately assess a family’s true ability to pay educational costs.” Any changes made to the FAFSA application process in the future must reflect the difficult balance between accessibility and oversimplification.

The financial aid application is one conducive to parent and taxpayer usage. For students who must decipher the process alone, the current information required is inaccessible and makes the task a daunting one.

“2 million students who are enrolled in college and would be eligible for a Pell Grant never applied for aid, and an unknown number failed to enroll in college because they did not know that aid is available,” according to the President’s Plan for Early Financial Aid.

Not only does the FAFSA application now require less time and frustration, the forms are also available as of October 1st, rather than the original availability on January 1st. This change is made possible through the implementation of the Prior-Prior Year system.

“Currently, FAFSA filers use income information from the latest completed tax year – the Prior Year.  For a 2015-16 FAFSA filer, this means the 2014 tax year.  This creates a very compressed time period during which applicants need to complete both their taxes and their FAFSA, and colleges then need to complete the financial aid package,” explains Gearhart.

“Prior-Prior Year will go back two years to get the tax data…” which allows for earlier access to the application, an easier submission of the FAFSA, and colleges are able to assemble financial aid packages earlier on.

Students and families can get a clear sense of how much higher education will cost early on, rather than relying on estimation followed by revelation of true cost further down the road.

The current inaccessibility of financial aid bars students from achieving a higher level of education, which negatively impacts the country as a whole; by leaving that intellect undeveloped, the economy is not operating at maximum capacity.

On average, President Obama estimates that “…a degree from a two-year school could earn you an extra $10,000 a year – a four-year degree could earn you a million dollars more over the course of your lifetime.”

“Education can give kids a sense of self-worth,” explains First-year Education major Maggie Mancini, as she understands the impact education can have on young lives.

Education is a crucial investment, for it provides the “…knowledge and skills needed to compete in an increasingly global marketplace,” according to Empowering Students to Choose the College that is Right for Them. However, as the necessity of a higher education steadily rises, so do the expenses associated with it. In a world where education is becoming a prerequisite for a living wage, more and more students are being priced out of a future.

Additionally, no more estimations must be made regarding finances and earnings from past years because now students can “…complete their FAFSAs using information retrieved electronically directly from the IRS a few months after they and their parents file their 2015 tax returns, reducing the number of applicants who need to estimate income or taxes paid…,” according to the President’s Plan for Early Financial Aid, which renders the completed form a simpler and more accurate document.

Not only is financial aid becoming more accessible, but the college search process is being revolutionized by a website called College Scorecard. Colleges are now being ranked based on new criteria such as “college cost, graduation, debt, and post-college earnings,” according to Empowering Students to Choose the College that is Right for Them.

Undeclared First-year student, Maddie Guynes, explains the most difficult aspect of the college discernment process as “actually getting started,” saying, “It was hard for me to know if I liked a school more than just on paper without physically visiting.”

The College Scoreboard website compiles information from students, counselors, and parents to make information readily available pertaining to debt and starting salaries to be expected after graduation. Students now can effectively weigh their decisions on personal factors, refraining from starving their mind and their wallets.

The goal is not to simplify the process on an individual level, but rather reap the benefits of a more widely educated society and the expanding economy that results. Ensuring that financial aid is accessible across socioeconomic borders allows more people to easily fulfill their vision of the American dream, while gradually raising the standard of living across the board. Ideally, the tools will provide anyone who is willing to work a means to finance their future.