FAFSA PPY Gains Bipartisan Congressional Endorsement

June 9, 2015

By Carrie Warick, Director of Partnerships and Policy

In a recent report from New America, 88 percent of students surveyed said that financial aid and cost of college were each the most important or very important in the college decision making process. The only factor more important in the college decision making process is the major/programs that a school offers. With cost and financial aid playing such an important role, the sooner students know how much financial aid they will qualify for, the better.

Unfortunately, today’s student applies for admission to institutions before fully knowing his or her eligibility for federal, state and institutional aid. The reason? The federal financial aid form, the FAFSA, uses tax information from the preceding year. With some state aid priority deadlines as early as February 15, students are trying to complete this form at the same time they (or their parents) are just receiving their W2s. Using income data from two years prior (prior-prior) would allow students to apply for aid earlier, using tax returns that are already completed. Not only would this give them access to important aid information earlier, it would have two additional benefits. First, students would be more likely to take advantage of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool that allows them to import their tax information directly into the FAFSA form. Second, using official, correct tax returns will reduce the likelihood that students will need to go through a cumbersome process called “verification,” proving that the information on their FAFSA is accurate, at the beginning of the semester.

Currently, the U.S. Secretary of Education has the authority to make this change to the form without additional action from Congress. Additionally, education leaders in both parties have shown support for making this change. During the first week of June, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and Representatives sent Secretary Duncan a letter urging him to use this authority. NCAN members and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), among others, also support this change. NASFAA published “A Tale of Two Income Years: Comparing Prior-Prior Year and Prior-year Through Pell Grant Awards” and “Great Expectations: Implications on Implementing Prior-Prior Year Income Data on the FAFSA” analyzing the effects of changing to PPY on both student awards and institutions.

With this growing coalition of supporters, moving to PPY income on the FAFSA form may seem inevitable. But advocates must keep pushing for the change until it happens. If you’d like to help support this important reform for students, please consider the following actions.

Do you have 2 minutes to help? Send the following email message to your U.S. Representative and Senators.

“Helping students to access and pay for higher education is very important to me. One easy change to help them would be using the second prior year tax data on the FAFSA. This change, known as prior prior year, would allow first time students to receive their financial packages sooner and make a more informed decision about where they ultimately attend school. For returning students, knowing their financial aid package in advance will give them more time to prepare and save for expenses. Please consider supporting this change either by asking Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to make this change or mandating it in legislation. Thank you.”

Do you have 5 minutes to help? Call your U.S. Representative and Senators and ask for the staff member who works on higher education. Tell them you support making the FAFSA easier by changing to using the second prior year of tax information. Ask your elected officials to support Secretary Duncan making this change and/or legislation that mandates the change.

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