Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Daunting Hurdle Disproportionately Impacts Disadvantaged College Applicants

April 9th, 2009 by Ajuan Mance

It’s a must-have for almost all incoming college applicants.

It is daunting and requires preparation and focus.

It is standardized for all students, regardless of race class or gender.

It is biased toward white students whose parents are college graduates.

It is the gatekeeper to college access for most of America’s students.

It is not the SAT.

The federal federal financial aid form, called the Fafsa, is one of the biggest hurdles a student must face on the pathway to college enrollment. Longer than the 1040 tax form and consisting of roughly 30 more questions than even the IRS requires, the Fafsa has tested the will, spirit, and patience of many a parent.

For most financial aid applicants, parental information is required. While the Fafsa makes exceptions to this rule for young men and women who have served in the military, who bear the primary fiscal responsibility for children of their own, who are wards of the state, and a handful other constituencies, any young man or woman who can be claimed as a dependent,  must provide detailed information about his or her parents’ assets and income. But what if the parents are either unavailable or unable to help their applicant, possibly due to a lack of information or ability; or what if the parents are willing to help, but have access to none of the required financial records; or what if the parents are reluctant to or unwilling to provide detailed employment information to a government agency?

Fafsa favors students from families that are financially stable, have good financial record keeping, and–most importantly–are already familiar with the steps involved in applying for financial aid.  As in so many other aspects of the world of higher education, middle-class families in which at least one parent is a college graduate are at a distinct advantage in this process. The news for families of color is even worse; much such household tend to be white.

Even those students whose parents are willing and able to be active partipants in the finanical aid applicantion process often turn to public or private help in completing the Fafsa forms. NY Times reporter Tamar Levin dropped in on a Fafsa help session, one of many held in communities across the country, to see how parents were dealing with the stress of completing this crucial hurdle in the college application process. Here is a sampling of some of the things she heard and saw:

‘It’s daunting,’ said Janette Logan, a Connecticut mother who had her daughter, Kate Brown, in tow recently at College Goal Sunday at Norwalk Community College. ‘Kate met her deadlines in applying for college, and now this is mine.’

But after about an hour in the computer room, Ms. Logan realized that she did not have all the necessary information, so she and her daughter left without submitting the form. As the afternoon wore on, many families drifted away without finishing.

‘I didn’t bring everything I need, but at least I know what to do now,’ said Gary Curto[.]

The Obama admistration has pledged to do away with the Fafsa, and nearly everyone in the financial aid community agrees that something has to be done to simplify the form. Until these changes comes to pass, though, most students, will continue to slog through the form, every year, with or without their parents’ cooperation.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in Current Events, Financial Aid, Higher Education, Uncategorized

2 Responses

  1. SjP

    That darn form is worst than completing your income tax. I know – got 2 in college. And what’s worst is the fact that many students miss out on assistance because they don’t fill it out for whatever reasons.

  2. Ajuan Mance

    2 in college? Then you know the joys of the Fafsa first hand.

    From what I can glean, financial issues may be the number one reason that students of color drop out of college. If nothing else, the lack of adequate funding certainly amplifies any other obstacles that may threaten a student’s ability to complete school.

    I wonder how many students’ main financial difficulty is that they cannot complete the Fafsa.