Despite our best efforts in the professional college financial aid advisement business, there are still far too many families that miss out on the financial aid they deserve. They think they don’t qualify, or don’t have the time or computer access needed to work through the confusing process. According to NerdWallet, an astonishing $2.3 billion in college aid was left on the table by the high school class of 2017, primarily because more than one-third of the eligible families did not even complete the FAFSA.
At the very least, students might have been eligible for a Pell Grant of about $3500. Missing out on free financial aid opportunities might mean taking on more student loan debt to pay for college expenses. To motivate more students to apply for financial aid, the Department of Education announced some major changes for next year:
• FAFSA is Going Mobile: In April of 2018, the Department of Education plans to launch a mobile FAFSA app to reach out to more students who might not have access to a laptop or personal computer. Secretary DeVos notes that the goal is to give students the ability to easily complete a FAFSA on their phones in just one sitting, and also have access to the College Scorecard to learn more about their prospective colleges.
• Improving Customer Service: Another goal that the Department of Ed would like to meet is to improve the customer service experience. They are currently researching methods of being able to deliver informative, tailored customer service to students and their families.
• Site Consolidation: One concern that has greatly added to the confusion factor is that there are two websites associated with Federal Student Aid – fafsa.gov and ed.gov, meaning that applicants have to familiarize themselves with two different formats to obtain aid. The Department aims to consolidate all of the customer-facing websites into a single, integrated and user-friendly online platform. This will provide students, parents and borrowers with a consistent and seamless experience from application through student loan repayment. Incorporating student loan information is designed to provide more information to make better decisions.
• An Easier App? Many critics argue that even if the form itself is more accessible, it is still far too daunting. The hope is to reduce and simplify the number and type of questions, and increase the use of skip logic to create a more intelligent form. Although the average time of completion is about 30 minutes to an hour, many would like to see Congress reduce the number of questions and the associated timeframe even more.
FSA is referring to these changes as a “Next Gen Financial Services Environment.” They plan to begin showing meaningful improvements in the customer experience in early 2018, and continue to make significant technology and operational infrastructure changes throughout 2019. Stay tuned for more information on how this affects your possibility of easily and successfully applying for college financial aid.