In what Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos called “the most significant change to the student aid process … ever,” the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) announced Tuesday an overhaul of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The myriad improvements could simplify the financial aid process for student borrowers and their families beginning this spring.
What changes you can expect from the FAFSA
Generating the most headlines is the fact that the FAFSA is finally coming to your cellphone. Starting in spring 2018, you’ll be able to fill out the FAFSA using a mobile app.
“You can order food, get a ride home, check your bank account, send money to a friend, or, as I’m told, even find your soulmate on your phone!” said Secretary DeVos. “The FAFSA should — at minimum — keep pace with these commonplace activities!”
In addition to filling out the FAFSA on the app, you’ll be able to:
- Read “College Scorecard” reviews for the schools you’re applying to
- Immediately see your expected family contribution and expected Pell Grant award amount
FSA hopes you’ll eventually be able to use the app for other tasks as well — such as comparing financial aid packages, making loan payments, and checking credit scores.
Ben Barrett, a higher education policy analyst at New America, tweeted a video of the rollout:
— Ben Barrett (@BenPBarrett) November 29, 2017
Although he acknowledged the ideas were “cool” and that he was “hopeful,” he also said, because of cybersecurity concerns, he was “highly skeptical that this will be possible under the timeline they have proposed (if at all).”
He also pointed out that FSA is already working to optimize the FAFSA for mobile and that it “does not necessarily need to be an app to make it easier for low-income, mobile-only households to complete.”
That being said, the app is only part of FSA’s plans to streamline the financial aid process.
“We’re one of the world’s largest consumer loan portfolios,” A. Wayne Johnson, FSA’s chief operating officer, told Politico. “We should be a very respected and trusted brand, and, very bluntly, to do that we’ve got to modernize our technical and operating infrastructure.”
In keeping with that goal, FSA said it will consolidate all its consumer-facing websites into one streamlined platform and eventually offer “a single data processing system that gives customers a seamless experience from when they submit a FAFSA form to the point when they make their last student loan payment.”
FSA also stated it’s exploring the idea of a prepaid card students could use to pay for books and other living expenses with their federal student aid funds.
Why the FAFSA is changing
For years, parents and students have complained about the FAFSA being too difficult and lengthy:
i can pinpoint the start of my anxiety disorder as the beginning of filling out my FAFSA
— hannah marie (@sadderall) November 29, 2017
completing fafsa should be considered an extreme sport
— a$h cheekz (@ashleyanero) November 30, 2017
Besides being a hassle, this complexity makes aid less accessible than it should be.
“Nationally, just 3 out of 5 high school seniors complete an application for federal student aid,” reported Inside Higher Ed. “And completion rates are lowest among low-income students, meaning those students leave billions of dollars in aid on the table.”
Simplifying the process — and using a mobile-first approach, as many families don’t own computers — has been hailed as a way to improve access to aid.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee, is famous for saying he’d like to see the FAFSA fit on a postcard.
In a Twitter thread about why it matters, he said the following:
Second, this complexity frustrates the goal of the Pell Grant, which is to help low-income students attend college, because it discourages them from applying for aid.
— Sen. Lamar Alexander (@SenAlexander) November 28, 2017
How to make sure you get financial aid
If you’re getting ready to apply to college or seek federal student aid for next year, these changes will probably come as welcome news.
To ensure you get the financial aid you deserve, stay on top of the FAFSA’s changes and fill it out as soon as you can. The 2018-19 FAFSA is already available, and the 2019-20 FAFSA will become available on Oct. 1, 2018.
You also can explore options such as Frank, an app that promises to help you fill out the FAFSA in four minutes.
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