As if filing a FAFSA each year weren’t a hassle enough, an article this past Saturday in The New York Times examined the undue difficulties faced by students with same-sex parents in filing their financial aid forms.
Students are only permitted to list one of their mothers or fathers on the FAFSA form, therefore presenting a quandary for those with same-sex parents. These students are then instructed to characterize their guardians as divorced, therefore lying about their family situation. This, in turn, could either result in the student receiving more or less aid than another student with heterosexual parents. The form also presents difficulties for other students who come from less typical family backgrounds, such as those who have a parent in jail.
The main reason why the form does not provide for students of same-sex couples is that it must reflect the restrictions set by the federal Defense of Marriage Act. But whether or not the federal government acknowledges same-sex marriage, the reality is that there are students from families with these unions. The form is intended to assess each student in order to deduce their needed aid, but instead it overlooks the truth of these students’ lives. This misrepresentation potentially leads to further detriment for students because universities and other institutions depend on the FAFSA to calculate their own distribution of funding and scholarships.
Certainly, universities may request additional information to better understand a student’s situation and take more backgrounds into account. However, FAFSA is rendered inefficient if these institutions must circumvent the financial aid system’s mechanisms in order to function in the best interest of students.
The Department of Education should look into alternatives. For example, listing parent one and parent two, rather than simply mother and father, may address the issue without violating the Defense of Marriage Act. The department must open its eyes to the truth behind the blank spaces of the FAFSA form. In seeking conformity, FAFSA oversimplifies the reality of a diverse range of students and detracts from the form’s purpose — to provide fairly distributed and necessary aid.