Saturday, October 23, 2021
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Opinion|The price of independence

FAFSA penalizes students who pay out of pocket

Many Roos who have left the pouch might view themselves as financially independent, bearing the costs of tuition and living expenses on their own. However, FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) does not always see it the same way.

Undergrad students younger than 24, who are not married, veterans, orphans, homeless or legally emancipated, are viewed by the federal government as “dependent.” This means that when filling out the form, students must file their parents’ financial information as well as their own. This, in turn, may greatly reduce the amount of financial aid a student qualifies for.

I find this to be a poor system.

The main issue with this, like many other policies generalized over a large population, is that it does not account in any way for circumstance.

The government, when calculating financial aid, assumes that a student’s parents will always pay a certain amount. Yet, as all those who have had to experience the trials and travails of ordinary life know, such things are by no means guaranteed.

Parents may not believe in contributing much to their children’s college education. They may have other expenses: loans, bills or medical payments that would all come before providing tuition assistance to their children. Or, the students themselves may not want to be financially tethered and refuse to accept money from their mother or father.

These factors are nonetheless ignored by the federal government.

Even in the most extreme cases, FAFSA still requires the parents’ financial details. If the student is estranged from their family, either due to abuse or disagreement, or if the parents refuse to help with the FAFSA process, the government will reject the application and may provide no aid at all.

On one hand, the government has a sensible reason to do this. If a student could merely state that his or her parents were unwilling to help, they could receive increased financial aid while taking money from their family on the sly. This could lead to an abuse of the system and ultimately result in ruining the program for all involved.

On the other hand, by taking this precaution, FAFSA proves itself to be useless to many students. Its unflinching enforcement of these rules makes it difficult for many disadvantaged students to receive the aid they need.

It is no secret that a college education is expensive. Over the past few decades, the price of tuition has risen at an astronomical rate. It is also clear that a bachelor’s degree is becoming an increasing necessity for those hoping to enter the workforce.

This shows that students need any aid they can get—now more than ever.            This is especially true for middle-class “dependent” students. While in their childhoods they may have been better off financially than others, as they enter higher education this advantage rapidly disappears. Lower-income families may qualify for significantly more financial aid, even when including the finances of the parents. And richer families do not have to worry about receiving aid—they can already afford the costs of education.

Yet, for the middle-class student, who may both be eligible for little financial aid while receiving little to nothing from their parents, options are limited.

These students and many others not aided by their families will be forced to borrow from predatory student loan agencies, filling their futures with bone-crushing debt. This does not bode well for success after graduation and discourages students from following their aspirations.

Filling out the FAFSA form may not have been worth their time.

This demonstrates that the FAFSA system, as it currently stands, is in need of an update. The limited viewpoint of the form’s eligibility requirements is not compatible with the circumstances of life.

While no solution may be readily available now, the future government officials from UMKC and many other schools should pool their collective resources to ensure the success of all college students from all walks of life.

smb9vt@mail.umkc.edu

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