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FAFSA change may help

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FAFSA to move application date.

By Alex Kramer
[email protected]

A change in financial aid is heading for the high-school graduating class of 2017.

The process to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid application moved from Jan. 1 to Oct. 1 starting in 2016 and will allow families to fill out the form based on the taxes two years prior.

“Students may not know, and likely won’t know, by October where they want to go to school, but they might not know by Jan. 1, when they would typically start filing either,” said Mark Warner, the University of Iowa director of Student Financial Aid. “They don’t need to have a final decision made by Oct. 1, but they should have a good idea what the menu of schools are, and this will help with that.”

Warner, who has been in favor of the change for years, said the new way will effectively shift the whole process up a few months, giving students more time to make decisions.

“Students will have a longer period of time to make that all-important decision — where am I going?” he said.

“It’s a change a lot of people wanted to see happen,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “This helps families because they can meet those deadlines for financial aid purposes earlier.”

However, there are a few drawbacks for families with the two-years-prior model, Goldrick-Rab said. She said some families may do well two years prior to the filing date, but might not do OK the following year.

“Most cases of families who are struggling economically, things will get better, but in some cases, they get worse,” she said. “If it’s gotten worse more recently, you might qualify for more need-based money than what you’re going to get.”

In addition, the program could run the risk of the government losing money as more people are entitled to financial aid, making the government feel inclined to cut back in some way, she said.

Kirk Kluver, the UI director of Admissions, said the new timeline is one of the best improvements to the financial-aid process in years.

The conversation about financial aid will be less generic, which would have an effect on what school the students think about and ultimately end up choosing, he said.

Goldrick-Rab said she was not opposed to the new filing date, because it should make things easier for students.

“It’s not a magic bullet; it’s not going to fix everything,” she said. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”

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