Just before the holiday break, members of Congress announced an agreement on several measures to improve access to higher education for marginalized students, students of color, and many of the schools that serve them. The aid is meant to go into effect for the 2021-22 school year.
The biggest change is perhaps the revisions in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will undoubtedly benefit the many low-income and first-generation students we serve.
“This is a big achievement for the college-access field,” Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy for the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), said, “and something that will have very real benefits for many students.”
Here are some key takeaways that will help students and their families:
The FAFSA will be shorter.
By shortening the application questions, families will have fewer obstacles for those seeking help in paying for college. “Reducing the FAFSA from 108 questions to 36 will remove the biggest barrier to helping more low-income students pursue higher education,” says Sen. Lamar Alexander (R), chairman of the Senate education committee and long-time advocate for the simplification of FAFSA.
The FAFSA will be easier.
Most aid applicants will no longer have to self-report income data on the FAFSA, making applying for aid less tedious, time-consuming, and anxiety-inducing. And, families with the lowest incomes will have fewer questions to answer than families with higher incomes.
Expanding Pell Grant eligibility.
According to Warick, legislators project that 1.7 million more students could qualify for the maximum Pell Grant award each year while conferring eligibility for partial awards to hundreds of thousands more. Additionally, incarcerated students will no longer be barred from receiving Pell Grants, as well as for those convicted of drug-related offenses.
$150 increase to the Pell Grant.
The new maximum award for the 2021-22 academic year will be $6,495, $150 more than this past year. Over the coming months, NCAN plans to push for a doubling of the maximum award. “FAFSA simplification and getting more students to apply for aid is a first step,” Warick said, “but we know there are not enough affordable options out there for families considering higher ed.”
For now, we celebrate a shorter and friendlier FAFSA and support NCAN’s efforts to expand aid that will pave more roads for our students on their paths to higher education. For more information about the new FAFSA, read: http://n.pr/3buCPdr.