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Changes to Federal Aid Brings Benefits to Students

MARIETTA, Ohio (July 12, 2016)—Last year President Obama announced significant changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that will impact students beginning this fall. Washington State Community College (WSCC) Director of Financial Aid Shannon Venezia was recently on Capitol Hill giving accolades to Congress for strides made and advocating for continued improved reform of the federal aid program.

The initial changes will unfurl this fall when the filing date of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be moved from January 1 to October 1. The FAFSA is a required form submitted to the government in order to receive financial aid from federal programs, many state programs and even institutional aid programs, which can help pay for higher education opportunities.

The government has also changed the tax year for which the FAFSA is based.  Applications will now utilize income information from two years prior. For example, on the 2017–18 FAFSA, an applicant will report their 2015 income information.  

Venezia cited the value of these changes is three-fold. First, they eliminate the delay of waiting for tax forms. Secondly, it should make the FAFSA application process easier because applicants, in many circumstances, will be able to use IRS data retrieval. Lastly, it will give families more time to look at the cost of college and make informed decisions about what school the student should attend based on aid eligibility.

Ultimately these changes are meant to encourage students to file the FAFSA because colleges and the government use it to allot need-based and some merit-based financial aid.  Venezia advised families not to assume they aren’t qualified to receive aid. According to a recent Sallie Mae survey, last year a quarter of households whose earnings were more than $100,000 received an average $9,000+ in grants.

Recently, on a visit to Washington as a member of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, Venezia met with congressional staffers from offices of Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Representative Bill Johnson (R-OH) and Delegate Eleanor Homes Norton (D-DC) and spoke on the behalf of community colleges when she offered praises for their efforts at improving aid opportunities, and encouragement for further reform.

She identified the reinstatement of year-round Pell grant, which is money awarded to students based on need and does not have to be repaid, as a step in the right direction, but she also encouraged them to legislate change for the earlier release of eligibility breakdowns of Pell funds.

Currently, Venezia communicates to a student what she anticipates their award to total near the end of the year, however, because the government doesn’t release exact figures until the end of January, the awarded amount can fluctuate by as much as $200. “That’s a book for some of our students, and could be what keeps them out of school,” she acknowledged.

Improvements to the Pell Grant in particular, are especially valuable to community colleges, specifically WSCC which is the smallest community college in Ohio, where 70% of its population is eligible for federal aid dollars. “For a community college, this is our lifeblood,” explained Venezia.

While her trip to DC was primarily to give praise to Congress for the financial aid improvements they’ve made and encouragement for continued work, she was elated to learn of an exciting opportunity in the pipeline. Senator Brown's office disclosed to Venezia that he plans to introduce a bill to eliminate origination fees on students loans, which are fees charged by lenders to cover the cost of processing a loan.

 “For our students who can borrow the maximum of $10,500, that’s $112 a year being paid to the Department of Education,” Venezia confirmed.  As the bill is in its infancy and still needs support for other members of congress, “this is another positive move to improve the affordability of higher education.”

For anyone interested in enrolling at WSCC, classes are scheduled to begin August 15. FAFSA priority processing for fall term has passed, however, students can still apply for aid. For more information, contact Venezia at 740.568.1908 orfinaid@wscc.edu.

For 44 years, Washington State Community College has provided residents of the Mid-Ohio Valley the opportunity to realize dreams, to enhance skills, and to broaden understanding. Whether you are a recent high school graduate or an adult student looking to move your life in a new direction, Washington State has the classes to suit your needs. For more information about Washington State Community College, visit www.wscc.edu or call 740.374.8716.

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