Financial aid should be based on student income alone

Illustration: Alex Gomez· The Sentry

Illustration: Alex Gomez· The Sentry
Keep the parents out of it

As college tuition costs continue to rise, more students now rely on government financial aid to fund their education. While some students do benefit from financial aid, many are let down by the program. Why? Financial aid awards are still based on parent income. 

This system may seem fair on the surface because students from wealthier households receive smaller loans. A study published by Fidelity in 2018 showed that only 29 percent of parents plan to pay their students’ tuition, down from 43 percent in 2016. This is largely due to rising costs to attend college, which the College Board reports is on average $20,770 per year for in-state students, $36,420 for out-of-state, and $46,950 for private universities. Many undergraduate students are forced to work minimum wage jobs on top of school and are still barely able to keep up with costs of tuition, let alone other living expenses like food and housing. 

Basing financial aid on parent income is also problematic because dependent students cannot even fill out a FAFSA application without a parent’s financial information. There are certain circumstances, however, where it is possible for students to file their FAFSA; students can get permission by legally proving that their parents are dead, their parents abused them, or they were emancipated before the age of 18. The FAFSA application specifically states that students cannot refuse to provide parent income information due to parents refusing to pay for college or living away from home.   

This is not only inconvenient for students who support themselves financially, but it makes it difficult for any students who have poor family relationships to even apply for aid. Some parents may not only refuse to pay for their child’s college but also refuse to even provide the required income information for the FAFSA application. There is an option for students whose parents refuse to provide payment information to fill out a form, but this form must be signed by the parents and notarized. It’s not likely that parents refusing to provide income information will wait to sign a form and have it notarized, as this would be an even more complicated process. Therefore, if the student could not legally prove abuse, they would be unable to complete the FAFSA form for aid, whether or not they were financially independent. 

Government financial aid is not helping students in all the ways that it should. Students should be allowed to apply for aid without providing parent income information, even if their parents are paying for college. Perhaps students should instead have to prove that they are financially independent—giving them the option to apply for loans based on their income rather than their parents to alleviate some of the debt incurred throughout college. This would help not only the students but universities and the government as well. Students who receive financial aid better suited to their needs will likely mean fewer college dropouts and more degrees earned to create a better prepared workforce able to pay money back to the government and into the economy.

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