This week marked a new milestone in the White House’s ongoing efforts to provide students with access to affordable postsecondary education. On Monday, President Obama announced changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) intended to make the form faster and easier for students to file.
The changes, which go into effect with the 2017-18 FAFSA, allow families to submit the FAFSA as early as October 1 - three months earlier than the current January 1 date. Families will also be able to report income information from the “prior-prior” year, making it easier for students to receive aid eligibility information earlier in the college application process.
Making the FAFSA process simpler will certainly help many students, but they’ll continue to need support along the way. As The Chronicle of Higher Education points out, easing the application process isn’t a magic cure for FAFSA’s woes. The shift from a paper application to an online form cut the average completion time by nearly a third, yet approximately two million eligible college students still do not file the FAFSA each year.
Nearly $9.5 billion in federal Pell Grants is available for those two million students, and it might be only a text message away. Text messaging has proven to be an effective tool for nudging students along the FAFSA process; one study found that text messages sent through the Signal Vine platform increased persistence by nearly twelve percentage points for students receiving text reminders to refile their FAFSA each year.
Financial aid is always going to be a somewhat intimidating and stressful process for students. The recent changes are definitely a great step toward a simpler FAFSA, but there are still 108 questions on the form. There are still strict deadlines. There are still many, many questions on students’ minds. Organizations must continue to support students throughout the FAFSA and financial aid process to ensure that all students have access to an affordable education.