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FAFSA to be overhauled, making it easier for students to apply for financial aid


Applying to college is one thing. Applying for financial aid is a whole other thing. For years, there were complaints about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which had more than 100 questions. Marie Kirima (ph) is a freshman at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and recently filled out FAFSA for the first time.

MARIE KIRIMA: Finding, like, the specific things that you needed to apply for it without being taught what those things are in class or in school was pretty hard for me.

RASCOE: In 2020, Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act with the goal of streamlining the form and expanding financial aid. The revisions will be finalized later this year. The overhaul will make a difference, benefiting an estimated 220,000 more students. That's according to a new report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Rachel Burns wrote the report. She's a senior policy analyst with the association and joins us now. Welcome, and thank you for being here.

RACHEL BURNS: Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here.

RASCOE: FAFSA can be really overwhelming, especially for a kid straight out of high school. Is it just that it's less questions, or are the questions less complicated?

BURNS: So it's essentially the same questions. It's just that now, instead of a student having to fill out all of the financial questions, if they opt in to allowing the data to come directly from the Internal Revenue Service, all of those questions will be automatically filled in for them, and they won't have to go in and input their own or their parents' financial information.

RASCOE: OK. And what about the amount of aid individual students could get? Are you predicting that will change? Will they get more or less on average?

BURNS: On average, students will be eligible for more financial aid. The thresholds below which students needed to fall in terms of adjusted gross income or assets or allowances - those have all increased, so a larger number of students will be below those thresholds and therefore eligible. And every year, the Pell Grant increases, and the same thing is happening this year.

RASCOE: Will there be any students who will have a tougher time getting federal aid because of these changes?

BURNS: Unfortunately, yes. There are a specific group of students who will likely see some negative impacts from this change. The first one is students who have another family member that's in college. So under the previous formula, the parent contribution to the expected out-of-pocket cost accounted for the fact that a family had more than one family member in college. That portion of the calculation is going away. So now there's no difference. If there's two families with - everything is exactly the same except one family has one in college and one family has two, those students will have the exact same expected out-of-pocket costs, so it's no longer accounting for there being more than one student in college.

RASCOE: And so tell me about the second group.

BURNS: So the second group is students whose families had small businesses or family farms - less than a hundred employees - did not have to report the assets of the family farm or the business on their FAFSA. And that small business, family farm exclusion is going away, and that's going to be a really significant change for a lot of students.

RASCOE: And so I wanted to ask you about some entirely new classes of people that will be able to take advantage of using the FAFSA - people with criminal convictions and some people with drug convictions. Is that correct?

BURNS: That is correct. That's one of the - in our eyes, one of the most exciting changes about the new FAFSA. It is lifting prohibitions for students with prior drug convictions and felonies. It's lifting prohibitions for students who have not registered for the Selective Service. And it restores Pell eligibility for incarcerated students - so not just formerly convicted students but also students who are currently incarcerated.

RASCOE: That's Rachel Burns, a senior policy analyst at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, talking about expected changes in the Free Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA. Thank you so much for joining us.

BURNS: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.