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The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

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FAFSA Undergoes Significant Redesign for 2024-2025

The redesign of the 2024–2025 FAFSA form could make it more challenging for students and families to apply for financial aid.
Rosenwald+Hall+as+seen+from+the+quad.
Sophie Bauer
Rosenwald Hall as seen from the quad.

The Federal Student Aid office (FSA), a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Education, has made significant changes to the 2024–2025 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Since FAFSA’s release in late December, families and experts alike have pointed out flaws with the form, including its failure to account for high inflation rates and a reduction of factors in calculating aid.

The change results from a section of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which Congress passed in 2021 and amended in 2022. This act was passed with the intent of simplifying the financial aid application process and making it more accessible to low-income students and families by reducing the number of questions on the form and making it available in more languages. The new application also allows students convicted of drug-related offenses to apply for federal financial aid, as well as male students not registered for the Selective Service.

The failure of the 2024–2025 FAFSA to account for inflation in aid calculation has been the most publicly criticized aspect of the new FAFSA by experts and families. Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, the U.S. Department of Education is supposed to update the consumer price index (CPI) figures used in calculating financial aid annually, but the Department of Education initially said that it would wait until the 2025–2026 aid cycle to make this change. The calculation of financial aid, which relies on the 2020 CPI, will thus fail to account for the high rates of inflation which have been persistent since the pandemic. Inflation in 2019 averaged at 1.8 percent, compared to the average inflation rate of 8 percent in 2022 and 4.1 percent for the duration of 2023. In an interview with The Maroon, Mark Kantrowitz, author of five bestselling books on financial aid in higher education, estimated that middle income families could pay about $1,600 more annually, with high income families paying roughly $4,600 more as a result.

In response to the FAFSA changes, a University spokesperson reaffirmed UChicago’s commitment to a debt-free education, telling The Maroon that “while the FAFSA is one tool we use toward that end, as a required application for UChicago financial aid, our holistic review goes beyond the information on the FAFSA.” The spokesperson emphasized the fact that UChicago’s “financial aid packages are based on a thorough assessment by the University and are not contingent on year-to-year changes to the FAFSA or other forms.”

After major pushback from financial aid administrators at colleges and universities across the country, the FSA has indicated that it will update its inflation figures. Such a change will make an additional $1.8 billion available to students, although the FSA has yet to announce when the change will be made. Colleges will also not receive students’ financial aid information until March, leading to increased wait times for financial aid offers from colleges and universities and limiting the options of students who are under a time crunch to confirm their enrollment.

Kantrowitz also pointed to the fact that the state tax allowance, a measure ensuring that the amount of income taxed by the student’s home state was accounted for during the calculation of aid eligibility, was struck from the FAFSA. He added that the loss of this consideration will disadvantage students living in states with high marginal income tax rates such as California and New York. Other allowances against income, including child support paid and combat pay will also no longer be accounted for in the FAFSA aid calculation formula.

Students attending college at the same time as a sibling are also expected to be impacted by the updated FASFA, as the FSA will also no longer take into account whether families are paying more than one tuition per year. Previously, the FAFSA formula divided up how much parents were able to pay by the number of children attending college per year, but starting with the 2024–2025 aid cycle, students with siblings who are also attending college will no longer receive a “sibling discount.”

Other problems with the form are technical in nature but will likely have broader systemic impacts on students and families applying for financial aid: The section of the form that establishes the FSA ID, a necessary number to continue the aid application process, asks for a parent/guardian’s social security number. However, if one parent enters their social security number, the other parent/guardian is not given the checkbox to say that they do not have one. This leaves students who have at least one undocumented parent unable to apply for aid, even if the student is an American citizen.

Further complicating the application process is the FSA’s continued availability in only two language options. While the FSA initially indicated that the 2024–2025 FAFSA form would be available to users in 11 languages instead of just two, it remains available in only English and Spanish. As an alternative, the FSA is asking students and families to call the Federal Student Aid Information center during business hours and have documents read to them over the phone. Since only one office deals with all incoming calls regarding FAFSA, including those relating to glitches with the FSA ID, disappearance of the sibling clause, and others, the aid office remains inaccessible due to higher-than-normal call volume. Even if callers are not immediately declined, they are likely to experience wait times of several hours.

There are some benefits to the updated FAFSA. The form has been streamlined significantly, meaning that it will be both easier and more efficient to complete. The new form also renames the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) the Student Aid Index (SAI), a move which provides clarity on what the number represents. Eligibility for the Pell Grant, a need-based federal grant to pay for higher education that does not have to be repaid, has also been dramatically extended to an additional 610,000 students, including those defrauded by a school and those who are currently incarcerated. An additional 1.5 million students will also become eligible for maximum Pell Grants, which are the largest Pell Grants the federal government distributes in a given year. The amount that the Maximum Pell Grant is worth for the 2024–2025 cycle has not yet been announced.

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    Regina Stolle / Feb 13, 2024 at 1:26 pm

    Pell Grant for those who are defrauded by a school and those who are currently incarcerated? Also the new application allows students convicted of drug related offenses to apply for federal financial aid? Why in the world should those students be rewarded???

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