Beginning next fall, students can use tax information dating back two years instead of just one, and they can apply for financial aid at the start of October rather than in January.
"(These changes) will vastly simplify the process for students and families by making the timing easier and, in many cases, by making it possible for (students) to just move (their) IRS data into the FAFSA automatically,” Eric Johnson, a spokesman for UNC’s Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, said.
Heather Jarvis, a student loan expert, said FAFSA acts as a barrier to students and families who find the form to be too difficult.
“The current FAFSA application is very complicated and makes students and families uncomfortable,” she said. “It definitely keeps people from applying for financial aid in its current form.”
President Barack Obama reported that under the current FAFSA system, an estimated two million college students are eligible for a Pell Grant but never applied. Others were too confused by the aid process to even complete their college applications.
Johnson said people within the financial aid field have begged the federal government to use two-year-old tax data for decades.
“The timing of the financial aid process makes no earthly sense from either a student or a processing perspective,” he said.
Utilizing two-year-old tax data allows for the form to be filled out before the current tax season, meaning students and families will know their financial aid offers prior to the college decision deadline.
Additionally, Obama called on Congress to enact legislation to eliminate up to 30 “disproportionately burdensome” questions on FAFSA — questions that require information that cannot be obtained electronically from the IRS and have only a slight impact on aid eligibility.
“Members of Congress can agree that students and families should have a straightforward and clear financial aid application process,” Jarvis said.
For universities like UNC, where almost half of the student population receives some form of financial aid, this is especially important, Johnson said.
“(The changes) will open up a lot more possibilities for people who need to know more about money before they start applying to colleges,” said Katie Kinsella, a UNC sophomore.
College is unlike any other consumer good in that the price differs from one student to the next — a point Johnson said he often struggles to communicate to families, especially those lacking a history of higher education.
“Any change that makes the aid process simpler and that gives families real financial information about what they’ll pay earlier is a good change.”