White House announces modifications to FAFSA application process

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The White House announced changes to the Free Application For Federal Student Aid on Sunday in an attempt to make the application process faster and simpler.

The new application system aims to allow students to make more financially informed enrollment decisions. The modified FAFSA application will be released in October 2016 rather than in the following January, when the applications usually become available. In addition, the application will now accept “prior-prior-year” tax information instead of the previous year’s. Using an IRS data-retrieval tool, which was implemented during the 2012-13 award year, students will be able to have much of their applications filled out automatically.

Seated in UC Berkeley’s financial aid office, campus senior Unis Barakat emphasized the significance of financial considerations when students are choosing their college.

“I definitely think (the changes) will help students and put less stress on students so they can focus on school,” said Barakat, whose sister was just accepted to UC Berkeley.

The UC Office of the President has confirmed that the University of California supports the U.S. Department of Education’s plans to allow potential applicants to use this “prior-prior-year” FAFSA method during the 2017-18 school year.

According to Rachelle Feldman — assistant vice chancellor and director of the Financial Aid and Scholarships office at UC Berkeley — there are about 25,000 students on campus who receive some form of financial aid. With these new changes, the financial aid office will be able to compress the timeline and make the process more efficient, Feldman said.

“We really welcome this change,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to be done for us to make this happen. All of our computer systems have to be changed, for example, but we’re really happy that this is happening now.”

Patti Colston, spokesperson for the California Student Aid Commission, or CSAC, said California students need both a FAFSA and a grade point average on file at the CSAC to qualify for a Cal Grant — state-funded financial aid.

In 2016, the law will require all public high schools to electronically submit the GPAs of graduating seniors by October, allowing the process of reviewing potential awardees to begin by Oct. 2.

The funding for Cal Grants comes from the state Legislature, and these grants are given to any students who meet the requirements.

The CSAC has $2.1 billion in Cal Grants available for the 2016-17 award year and $107 million for Middle Class Scholarship students.

“There’s plenty of opportunity,” Colston said.

According to a White House press release, an estimated 2 million students enrolled in college who are eligible for a Pell Grant never applied for aid. The release also noted that an unknown number of students failed to enroll in college because they were unaware that aid was available.

Contact Jason Tran and Harini Shyamsundar at [email protected].