In a move toward greater equity and accuracy, the Department of Education (ED) has announced a major change to the 2014-15 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Parents’ marital status will no longer dictate whose information a dependent student must include on the FAFSA, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Monday during an invitation-only media call with NASFAA President Justin Draeger. Information from both parents will be required on the FAFSA, regardless of parents’ gender or marital status, if:
1. Both parents are legal parents, defined as biological or adoptive parents; and
2. The student’s legal parents live together.
Because unmarried parents may be of the opposite sex or of the same sex, when the response to the parents’ marital status question is “unmarried and both parents living together,” follow-up FAFSA questions will refer to the parents as “Parent 1 (father/mother)” and “Parent 2 (father/mother)” or simply “parents.” This is a shift from the gender-specific “mother” and “father” options currently available.
“This will result in fairer treatment of all families by eliminating long-standing inequities based on parents’ relationship with each other, instead of their relationship with their child,” Duncan said during the call.
Independent students are not affected by this change, unless they, for non-federal student aid purposes, choose to provide parental information on their FAFSA.
ED has informed NASFAA that this guidance does not affect the definition of an eligible borrower in the PLUS program. Under 685.200(c)(2), an eligible parent borrower is a student's biological or adoptive mother or father or the student’s stepparent, if the biological parent or adoptive mother or father has remarried at the time of application.
NASFAA’s Draeger hailed the change as a positive step for both the simplicity and integrity of the federal aid process. Draeger noted that by more accurately capturing what families headed by two unmarried parents can pay—or by two parents whose marriage is not recognized under the federal Defense of Marriage Act— we continue to emphasize that the primary responsibility to pay for college rests first with the family. At many schools that use Institutional Methodology (IM), this practice has already been adopted, he added.
“As stewards of federal funds and as student advocates who work daily with over 15 million student aid recipients, financial aid administrators have been urging our federal system to keep up,” Draeger said. “There’s still more we can do—particularly for students who are considered dependent even though they are in a same-sex marriage and same-sex parents who have not technically adopted a student even though they are clearly part of a household—but those changes may require changes to federal law.”
“We applaud the U.S. Department of Education for making changes that are within their purview to make this process more simple and equitable for students,” Draeger added.
GEN-13-12 includes more details about the change, including a reference chart illustrating those family structures that will be impacted and an extensive list of Q&As.
On or about May 1, 2013, ED will publish a draft of the 2014-2015 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in the Federal Register for public comment. NASFAA will announce the availability of the draft 2014-15 FAFSA in Today’s News and we encourage you to submit your comments on the FAFSA to ED and send a copy to NASFAA.
Publication Date: 4/30/2013