‘Better’ college federal aid form to debut by year’s end
By Mike McKibbin
Colorado Mountain College
Dec. 6, 2023 – No matter what age or stage of life a student is in, paying for college can be challenging. However, a key application form that can unlock access to numerous funding sources is receiving a major overhaul, which will make seeking funding a much easier process.
Financial aid staff at Colorado Mountain College report that big changes are being made to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA®, form. Students must fill out and submit the form each academic year to be considered for federal and other types of financial aid.
Another form, the Colorado Application for State Financial Aid, or CASFA, is for those students who do not qualify for FAFSA.
“Many funding opportunities at CMC require that the FAFSA or CAFSA be completed so we encourage students to apply,” said Janelle Cook, CMC director of financial aid. “You might be surprised what you might qualify for.”
Although in previous years, both forms were available on Oct. 1, for this year only, the forms have not yet been made available. Students may access them no later than Dec. 31, regardless of what higher education institution they may be applying to attend for the fall 2024-25 academic year.
While students are waiting for the FAFSA form to become available, Cook said they can access the Federal Student Aid Estimator online at https://studentaid.gov/aid-estimator/ that will help them see how much federal money may be available to them.
An easier process
Cook said the changes to the FAFSA form will be noticed by returning students who have previously completed the form.
“The onboarding experience will be quite a bit different,” Cook said. “The form will be easier and have far fewer questions. And it will be easier year to year, since some of the answers will roll over into future years.”
In a news release, the U.S. Department of Education stated the new form is available in 11 of the most common languages, including English and Spanish, which is in line with CMC’s Hispanic Serving Institution designation that the college received in 2021.
Colorado is behind most other states, in terms of the numbers of students filling out the form. Cook said the state ranks 44th in the U.S. in FAFSA applications, meaning that Colorado sits near the bottom of the rankings in terms of students receiving all the funding that is available to them. However, Cook said the new form will help more Colorado students access the funds they need. “We want to make sure Colorado students don’t miss out,” she said.
The Department of Education estimated the “better” FAFSA process will help 610,000 new students from low-income backgrounds receive federal Pell grants. The update to student aid calculations is also projected to help 1.5 million more students receive the maximum Pell grant, bringing that total to more than 5.2 million.
Pell grant eligibility is linked to family size and the federal income level. In Colorado, the redesigned form is expected to increase the number of Pell recipients by 14,128 to a total of 25,465, according to the release.
Other changes include replacing the Expected Family Contribution with the Student Aid Index to better measure the ability to pay for college by changing the methodology used to determine aid. Where possible, the department will use data received directly from the IRS to calculate Pell grant eligibility and the index. None of the information shared on the forms is ever shared and is strictly confidential.
Cook added CMC’s office of financial aid will hold FAFSA nights and workshops to explain the changes. She also directed students to get specific information from the CMC’s financial aid office, which has virtual open office hours, and the U.S. Department of Education.
“We have financial aid specialists at CMC who speak English and Spanish,” Cook said, “and we’re here to help.”