Students and University officials have recently scrutinized the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in response to an Oct. 17 New York Times article about FAFSA’s inability to accommodate students with same-sex parents and students who are no longer receiving financial support from their parents.
Stanford Director of Financial Aid Karen Cooper said that Stanford collects financial information via the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, which asks for “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” as opposed to “Mother” and “Father.”
Although the FAFSA has become more flexible over the years, it still does not provide a clear way of marking whether a student has same-sex parents. This problem makes the process of applying for financial aid especially difficult for students with same-sex parents due to the form’s demand of a “Mother” and “Father” category.
“The parents of these families are very willing and want to participate in their student’s education,” Cooper said. “These families fought so hard to be a family in the first place. They want to support their children.”
Another issue with the FAFSA arises when students declare themselves financially independent from their parents. Federally, a student is declared independent once he or she reaches age 24, if he or she is an orphan, ward of court, adopted, a veteran, has children or is married.
At Stanford, however, the Financial Aid Office assumes students under the age of 25 have the support of their parents.
When applying for financial aid, the office requires parental information, regardless of whether or not the parents can help pay for their student’s education. Without this information, Stanford will not award financial aid.
Cooper said that obtaining the financial profile of a student isn’t just about reporting the amount of money a family can contribute in supporting their child, but the financial documents also act as “checks” for Social Security or for U.S. citizenship.
However there are exceptions, and the Financial Aid Office uses “professional judgment” to determine cases where the requirement for parental information can be overridden. Even if a student does not fit any of the common categories when declaring independence, a student who is kicked out of his or her home or cannot return home or obtain information on their parents because of dangerous circumstances can be considered for independence.
FAFSA has evolved over the past five years, accommodating students who have been or are currently homeless by not requiring parental information for those students. Additionally if an applicant is insistent on not filling the form out online or doesn’t have access to a computer, the FAFSA can be filled out on paper.