Abigail Ruhman is a freshman journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for the Maneater.
Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid sucks. Digging through tax documents and family information in hopes that maybe this year is the year you can afford college tuition sucks. The scary part about the system is that it does not assist those who need it most.
For most college students, FAFSA is something we have to do that just is not great. Other students can easily experience a time full of fear and questions of family status. It reveals another layer of confusion to a system that is already complex. At the end of my senior year, my best friend was attempting to fill out the FASFA Verification Form (or audits) for his university. While I saw the document as a nuisance, he was struggling to find all of his family’s information. That day, for the first time ever, he told me about his parents’ immigration status. The FAFSA requires the student to prove their parents’ residency for in-state tuition. The requirement to prove residency would make sense, but the verification process is where the neediest students lose out.
The verification process sounds simple: If you are a “dependent” on the tax year that you use to fill out your FAFSA, you have to prove that the person you are dependent on is in-state. Where it becomes questionable is when that verification creates a hold on the application. That hold can mean that students lose out on the first come, first serve basis. Because my friend’s parents were not citizens, he struggled finding documentation and the required information. For him, there were not many places to find necessary resources. He was afraid that asking for help might be the reason his parents were deported.
According to Vox, Donald Trump wants immigrants to be afraid in the United States. The scary (but not surprising) part: It is working. Trump is hoping to make immigrants go through a harder application process to use public benefits.
It turns out that immigrants are not the only ones that lose out. The lower class in general also tends to be the ones affected by these audits. When these audits target low income students, the burden of filling it out can actually cause students to not receive the Pell Grant (typically awarded to students who show a large financial need based on their Expected Family Contribution which provides an estimate for how much the family can produce) at all. According to the National College Access Network, this can be referred to as “verification melt.” They estimate that only 31 percent of lower income students make it to college with the Pell Grant they are entitled to.
According to Time, 90 percent of audits tend to affect low income students. The families that do go forward with the verification are met with a series of excruciatingly tedious tasks. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, 80 percent of aid administrators agree that navigating the verification process is difficult for students and families. They also found that one third of administrators said that almost always or often leaves aid undetermined even after the semester has started. Additionally, 56 percent agreed that the process prevented eligible students (not just lower class) from getting the aid they need to pay for college.
The verification process leaves students in the dark about their college finances. For students stuck in the middle of the painful process, it can add an additional burden to the students and their families. Students often are left with a disadvantage at the beginning of their college career. Disadvantaged students have to consider the massive burden that debt places on their future, how the debt can actually grow larger than what the student owed at graduation and how that debt affects them later in life.
For lower income students and children of immigrants, the financial aid system is not just annoying, it is costing them their education. College students have to recognize that we lose out when these students do not attend college. We can learn so much from their experiences and they deserve the same opportunities as all of us. Education and knowledge should not be reserved just for the privileged. The first step to opening these doors for everyone is to stop holding disadvantaged students from receiving federal student aid.