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New FAFSA aims to simplify application process

A revamped federal financial aid application system was introduced this year, aiming to simplify the often frustrating and time-consuming process for students.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) is an optional form that can by filled out annually by incoming and current college students, both undergraduate and graduate. The form consists of multiple questions of student finances that are entered into a formula, determining the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Factors used in determining the EFC include income, the number of students in a household currently in college, assets and household size.

According to a study by the federal education department, 16 million students applying to college last year were asked as many as 153 questions, most of which had little to no effect on actual financial aid packages. Due to the amount of questions and confusion surrounding the forms, it is estimated that 1.5 million enrolled students would have been eligible for the Pell Grant program, but did not apply.

When applying for aid, more than 90 percent of families and students supply information that the federal government was already provided when they filed their taxes. When applying online now, students will be able to access their tax information from the IRS, which will answer up to 20 questions.

As 98 percent of applicants use the online application, the new form no longer simply reproduces the paper version, but allows students to skip unnecessary questions, effectively eliminating 250 million questions per year. It allows students over the age of 24 or married to be exempt from questions regarding parental income. The new system also allows men 26 or older to skip Selective Service registration questions. Students with low incomes will no longer need to provide information on family or personal assets, which are not used in the determination of the aid eligibility. In prior years, both incoming and current students have been required to disclose past drug convictions on their FAFSA forms.

On the 2010 forms, only returning students will need to answer these questions.

In a June 2009 press conference, President Barack Obama stressed the need to make college more affordable by simplifying the financial aid process.

“I’ll simplify the financial aid process so that we don’t have a million students who aren’t applying for aid because it’s too difficult,” he said.

When explaining the changes to FAFSA, U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a February 2009 visit to a high school in Arlington, Va., “We have to educate our way to a better economy,” adding, “young people and adult earners deserve the chance to go to college and know the money is available.”

In a press conference, Duncan said of FAFSA, “You basically have to have a Ph.D to figure that thing out.”

Last year, 20,000 University of Massachusetts students received financial aid from federal, state and University sources, totaling to more than $198 million in aid.

Tori Conlon, a freshman journalism major, found the forms extremely difficult.

“The forms took me hours to finish,” said Conlon. “It was really frustrating to learn that I needed to answer so many questions even though many didn’t affect my financial aid. In the end, though, it was worth filling out.”

Michelle Williams can be reached at mnwillia@student.umass.edu.

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