FAFSA eligibility should reflect student reality

Courtesy of Freepik.com.

Yes, I’m a 20-year-old college student. No, mommy and daddy don’t pay my tuition.

According to a 2018 study by Fidelity, 29 percent of parents plan to pay their children’s college expenses in full.

It goes without saying the overwhelming majority of college students in the United States pay for their own schooling. So why is it that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) makes it nearly impossible for these students to receive extra financial assistance?

The FAFSA website states “the federal student aid programs are based on the concept that it is primarily your and your family’s responsibility to pay for your education,” though this is an outdated concept.

Most college students are financially independent, but FAFSA has strict criteria on who can claim to be an independent student.

If the student is not 24 or older by Jan. 1 of the school year in which they’re applying for aid, married, pursuing a master’s or doctorate degree, a parent, or an active duty military member, then they’re not an independent student, regardless of whether they live on their own and pay all of their bills.

Well, surprise, FAFSA: There are some college students under the age of 24 who are working towards a bachelor’s degree, aren’t married, and would like to potentially qualify for more aid due to their already high living expenses.

These aren’t special circumstances by any means. These are normal circumstances.

In a 2018 study by Robert Kelchen, an associate professor at Seton Hall University, it was found that 56.9 percent of college students lived off campus and away from their parents.

This means that most college students must pay for rent and other basic living expenses, such as food and personal care items. Those expenses, on top of tuition, mean that more help from federal student aid programs would benefit students.

The assumption FAFSA makes that all parents could afford or even want to help their children pay for tuition is unreasonable.

Every year, with the cost of living rising in the U.S., more and more parents are opting not to pay for their children’s education.

In 2016, Fidelity reported 43 percent of parents said they planned to pay their children’s college expenses in full, meaning there was a 14 percent drop in a two-year period. 

That number is expected to continue to decline in the upcoming years, as it rightfully should.

Parents shouldn’t be expected to bear the responsibility of paying for their children’s tuition, unless they’re outright forcing them to go to college.

So, FAFSA: Maybe it would be nice for you to help out the majority of college students in the U.S. by adjusting the dependency status criteria to ensure the students who need extra financial assistance can actually get it.