Federal Postsecondary Policy
Postsecondary education policy needs to be modernized to support economic development and to be more in line with the realities of low-income working adults' lives and the needs of employers. CLASP works to align adult education, job training, and higher education policies to create pathways to marketable credentials that support stable employment in jobs that pay family-sustaining wages.
Sep 14, 2015 | PERMALINK »
Department of Education Announces Significant Change Simplifying Application for Federal Financial Aid
Today, President Obama announced a significant policy shift that will help low-income students access college financial aid by making the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) simpler to complete. This key administrative change, which CLASP supported in its recent recommendations for higher education reform, would allow applicants to complete the FAFSA using income tax data from two years prior to the current year.
This change is a major win for students, significantly simplifying the aid application process. Forty percent of students who said they didn’t complete the FAFSA because it was “too much work” would have qualified for a Pell Grant. At community colleges alone, 39 percent of students fail to apply for federal financial aid. Allowing applicants to use income from the “prior-prior year” will make it easier for low-income students to apply for aid using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which can automatically import their tax information. This will save students time and paperwork and allow them to apply for financial aid earlier. By accessing more relevant information further in advance, students will be able to make more informed college decisions, as well as apply for state and institutional grant aid that is given out on a first-come, first-served basis.
Under the current rules, applicants must wait to complete the FAFSA until January 1 of the year they plan attend a higher education institution. Additionally, they must verify their household income using their most recent tax data. For instance, a student completing the FAFSA for the 2015-2016 academic year (which begins July 1, 2015) would not be able to access the form before January 1, 2015 and would have to use their 2014 tax data.
Starting with the 2017-2018 FAFSA form, the announced change will allow students to access and submit the form three months earlier—beginning October 1 instead of January 1—and use the tax data from two years prior (in this case, 2015 income data rather than 2016).
According to a report on the potential impact of a prior-prior year policy, independent students without dependents are most likely to see a change in their Pell award of $1,000 or more when using tax information from two years prior. Additionally, while this policy will help many students obtain the financial aid they need, it is important to protect students who have experienced a significant drop in income between the prior-prior year and the time of enrollment. When evaluating either such applicant type, CLASP strongly encourages institutions to use their professional judgement authority.
The U.S. Department of Education should further encourage this practice through their materials and guidance—reminding institutions about their ability to exercise professional judgment and advising students about their right to request a professional judgment appeal. CLASP has continuously highlighted the need for policies to support independent adult students, who make up an increasing share of college students and who frequently juggle school with work and family obligations.
- Anna Cielinski | Sep 25, 2015 Testimony to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance Summer Hearing on Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) On Consumer Information and Data Transparency
- Anna Cielinski | Sep 11, 2015 Testimony to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance Summer Hearing on Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) On Consumer Information and Data Transparency
- Lauren Walizer | Sep 11, 2015 Testimony for the Record to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance
- Lauren Walizer, Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, and Anna Cielinski | Aug 14, 2015 Engaging HEA as a Tool to Address the Needs of Non-Traditional Students: CLASP Recommendations for HEA Reauthorization
- Kisha Bird, Anna Cielinski, Judy Mortrude, and David Socolow | Apr 17, 2015 Promoting Economic and Career Success for Low-Income Youth and Adults: A Preview of Key Provisions in the Proposed WIOA Regulations