Obama initiative aims to encourage more students to apply for financial aid

Adam Hamze

The Obama administration announced the FAFSA Completion Initiative earlier this month, a plan that will aid the Department of Education in identifying students who have not finished their applications for FAFSA and help them do so.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid — also known as FAFSA — is a form used by the Department of Education to determine the amount of need-based federal grants or federal loans a student might receive for college. In the 2011-2012 submission period, almost 22 million FAFSAs were submitted.

Tom Melecki, director of Student Financial Services, said there are a number of reasons students do not complete FAFSA, and among them is the students’ belief that they will not qualify for benefits.

“There are a lot of students who start the FAFSA, [and] then they have to ask their mom and dad to provide some data, and they say, ‘Don’t bother with that. We make too much money,’” Melecki said. “But, then again, it’s really difficult for them to know that.”

According to Student Financial Services, 64 percent of undergraduates submitted FAFSA forms last year, and 73 percent of those who applied received need-based financial aid. The total amount of need-based financial aid given in 2012-2013 was approximately $260 million, while the total amount of non-need-based financial aid given that year — including merit-based scholarships — was  around $82 million.

According to Melecki, FAFSA is operating better now than it has in previous years, but there are two things he said he would change: one would be to allow students to fill out the application two years prior to attending college, and the other would be to make the application a requirement.

“I’d be the first to admit that this might be a step too far, but I’d almost like to require every student to have to complete a FAFSA,” Melecki said. “There’s no institution in the country that does that, though.”

Journalism sophomore Ashley Lopez said the language found in FAFSA is enough to deter students from applying, but she believes everyone should fill it out, even if they are unsure whether they will qualify for aid.

“It’s confusing because it’s based off your parents’ tax info, and, if you haven’t looked at a W2 form or IRS forms, the terms are hard to understand,” Lopez said. “I think all people should [apply for FAFSA].”

Melecki said he is unsure whether Obama’s initiative will be successful and thinks there are alternatives to prompting more students to fill out the application.

“I think it would be even more effective if Congress would appropriate more money to put in the federal financial aid programs, so that students could equate completing the FAFSA with having a better chance of getting the best forms of federal student aid,” Melecki said.