FAFSA and CSS profiles need a reality check

Isabella Cordell, Director of Communications

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College admissions scandals, particularly Varsity Blues, dominated the news cycle this summer, and, in July 2019, a new scandal hit national headlines: parents intentionally giving up custody of their children to obtain more money through FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Surprisingly, this method is entirely “legal” and involves those from families that can afford the strain of college expenses taking a large sum from the FAFSA pool traditionally reserved for less wealthy students. While this method is extreme (and immoral), it calls to attention the deeper problems of the methods through which financial aid is given. Undeniably, the parents who used this method should be ashamed.

Nevertheless, FAFSA has an overarching problem of not giving enough money to students, regardless of a student’s financial situation. For instance, an estimated financial contribution or EFC, which determines how much money a family can put towards college, is often half of or more than half of a middle class family’s yearly income. For families with more than one child, how is paying half of a family’s salary for one sibling’s education and another half of the salary for the other sibling’s education feasible? If FAFSA gave a fair amount of money to lower and middle class citizens, then 44 million people would not be trapped in $1.3 trillion dollars of student loan debt

The best theory for why this happens is that the federal government makes profits from student loans. In fact, the federal government made an estimated $1.6 billion from student loans in 2016. Why would the federal government give students money through FAFSA when they could earn money through student loans instead? 

Not to mention, FAFSA seems to be continually down, with many technical difficulties regularly reported. The primary method of students obtaining money to pay for college, something that improves upon the United States economy, should not be made more inconvenient with bureaucratic incompetence. So far, in 2019, The New York Times’s website failed less often than FAFSA’s website did. While this statistic seems irrelevant, The New York Times is regularly read by millions across the globe; FAFSA is only used in the U.S. for not so large of a group. 

The CSS or College Scholarship Service is a means of acquiring aid in private institutions. Much like the FAFSA profile, the CSS is a hellscape of complicated tax forms. The most major concern with CSS is that it is owned by the College Board, a monopoly that is an integral part of the nightmare of expenses that comprise college applications. How many people actually can even apply for institutional aid through this system when you have to pay $25 dollars per school, keeping in mind that the recommended number of schools to apply to is six to eight? Why is a private, removed institution from a college that profits off of their service responsible for the financial future of millions?

Maybe it is time for a reliable, helpful system of obtaining college aid that doesn’t require paying money and doesn’t lead to Americans taking out trillions of dollars in student loans.