Starting with the 2014-2015 academic year, the U.S.
Department of Education will implement changes to collect parental information
on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, regardless of the parents’
marital status or gender.
“They’re redefining in some sense what a student’s
parent is. I wish it were a more clear clarification, but they appear to be
taking gender out of the issue of a parent. It’s no longer going to define a
parent as a mother or a father,” said Paul Watson, the University of
Wisconsin-Stevens Point Financial Aid Director.
If the legal parents, biological or adoptive, are
living together, they are required to include income and other information for
the dependent student’s application. Once submitted, this information will be
used as a means to calculate the student’s expected family contribution and
ultimately the student’s eligibility for federal aid.
“My question is—how is this going to work? Stepparents
are always going to question how they are financially responsible. Now the
government sees a need to look at the household and its resources because
everyone is contributing to the expenses for the student’s education,” Watson
When plans to revise the current FAFSA application were
released, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explained, “Students should
be able to apply for federal aid within a system that incorporates their unique
The new application is meant to ensure better
distribution of funds, as well as provide a sense of inclusivity that reflects
the diversity in families around the United States.
“Above all, I think the Department of Education is
trying to recognize the change in the nuclear family throughout the country,”
Watson said. “Some individual states define marriage in a way that may not
always be recognized the same way through the eyes of the federal government.”
Upon the start of the new application, Watson explained
that the biggest confusion will be talking about parents being married and the
identity of the legal parents in this situation. The new FAFSA form will use
terms like “Parent 1 and Parent 2” to discriminate between each individual.
Gender-specific terms like mother and father will be eliminated.
The new application, however, will not impact a
majority of the applicants who need financial aid. This could be because they
are independent students or because they are dependent students whose parents
are married to each other or are unmarried and do not live together. The
eligibility of some dependent students around the country will change.
“The formulas to determine the amount of aid given to
any student are not being changed,” Watson said. “It’s really hard to know how
much of a change this is going to be until it happens. We don’t have data out
yet, and there’s nothing to study about what the impact is going to be on
Currently the U.S. Department of Education is working
on the development and layout of the 2014- 2015 FAFSA applications. They will
be adjusting both instructions and questions. Most recently, significant
updates have been made to the electronic application that makes filling out
certain sections more user-friendly.
“It remains to be seen how big of an issue people see
this is going to be. Things are not as simple as they were many years ago, but
the purpose of financial aid hasn’t changed or moved. There will be some
confusion, but people will learn to adjust,” Watson said.