There are two simple reasons that most of us decided to attend Binghamton University — it’s a good school and it’s cheap. But even with its comparatively low cost of attendance, $24,000 a year is not something that most college students have just lying around, so many rely on parents to help fund their college careers.
Parental coverage of all college expenses, however, is not prevalent — in May 2017, Forbes Magazine analyzed data from LendEDU, which conducted a survey of over 1,400 college graduates and discovered that only 9 percent of students had the majority of their college paid for by their parents.
In comparison, according to the survey, 45 percent of college graduates did not have any financial help from their parents. Despite the fact that these students are receiving no financial assistance from their families, they go through the same Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process as those who are.
I’m sure that we’ve all suffered through filling out the FAFSA, but it’s important to note that most students are considered “dependents” to their families, particularly when students decide to go to college right out of high school. This means the government automatically assumes that the family is contributing to the student’s college fees in some capacity.
This qualification allows the entire FAFSA to be based upon the parents’ financial information — their taxed and untaxed income, their assets, their Social Security benefits and other circumstances. All of this data is put in a formula that eventually results in the expected family contribution, which is then subtracted from the college’s cost of attendance to determine the financial need of each student.
Here’s the catch: At no point does the government confirm that the “expected family contribution” is actually going to be given to the student. Though the family is technically able to pay this determined amount of money to their child’s school of choice, many parents decide that college is something that their children should pay for themselves, or that it is unrealistic for the family to be contributing this amount of money.
The financial aid that a student is offered to fund their college career is still exclusively determined by their family’s financial status, rather than their own. This results in a skewed amount of financial aid awarded that does not actually reflect the amount of money that the student needs to attend college.
This system is illogical. It is entirely counterintuitive that the amount of financial aid awarded to a student is dependent on the finances of parents who may have no intention to pay for their child’s college expenses. It does not make any sense that students who are going to get funding from their parents — and students who are not — are both evaluated equivalently within the FAFSA.
Rather, it is far more rational to permit anyone who is not receiving funding from their parents to be considered an “independent.” This would allow them to fill out a different form to determine the financial aid they receive, a form that does not include any expected family contribution and is therefore not solely dependent on their parents’ income — only their own. Their financial aid award would likely experience a significant increase, since the amount of money that they are able to contribute would be mitigated once it does not include their family’s “expected” contribution.
We should be encouraging all students who want to go to college to do so. New York state has taken some steps forward in this area with the administration of the Excelsior Scholarship, but few states give this opportunity to students. The amount of financial aid awarded through the FAFSA can be the determining factor as to whether someone goes to college, or must enter the workforce instead. Changing the FAFSA process to better fit the needs of students all across the country is the government’s responsibility to support and promote a college education for all who seek it.
Emily Houston is a junior double-majoring in English and political science.
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