President Barack Obama has announced steps to make a college education more affordable through better access to financial aid for students.
The White House will be taking several measures to increase access to financial aid, including allowing students to apply earlier under the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. FAFSA applications are used to determine eligibility for federal student loans and Pell Grants, a federal student aid program offered to students based on need. The new program, beginning in 2016, will allow students to file FAFSA applications in October rather than having to wait until January.
In addition, students will be able to retrieve tax information from the previous year electronically, allowing income from 2015 to be used rather than waiting to finalize taxes for 2016. Currently, students must wait until tax season to be able to complete their applications.
"Learning about aid eligibility options much earlier in the college application and decision process will allow students and families to determine the true cost of attending college – taking available financial aid into account – and make more informed decisions," the White House said in a statement.
Across the nation, student debt has increased to a national total of around $1.2 trillion. The amount is so high that student debt has become the second largest form of household debt after mortgages.
According to the White House, almost 2 million eligible students did not apply for a Pell Grant, while an unknown number did not attend college because they were unaware that aid was available to them. However, predictions suggest that more qualifying students will begin to apply for grants.
"Over the next several years, the simpler FAFSA filing process could encourage hundreds of thousands of additional students to apply for and claim the aid they are eligible for – and enroll in college," the White House statement said.
Current students will still need to wait until January to apply, as the new program will not begin until 2016, writes Andrew Pestano for UPI. Colleges and universities across the country have already promised to change their deadlines for student aid to coincide with the earlier federal application process.
Obama also plans to make a push for Congress to pass legislation that would simplify the FAFSA application by omitting 30 questions that the President says do not directly influence aid eligibility, reports Joe Melillo for WKBN.
The changes came just after Obama announced the new College Scorecard website, which makes graduate debt and earnings data available to prospective students.