FAFSA: Congress votes to shorten form, experts downplay fears about link to the draft

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will soon be shorter, thanks to simplifications included within a bill passed by Congress in mid-December. The legislation—which, pending President Donald Trump’s signature, also will permanently fund HBCUs and minority-serving institutions—will allow the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to directly share income information with the Department of Education (DOE). That will streamline the FAFSA by eliminating 20 self-reporting tax return questions, which posed a high potential for error, writes CNN. The changes are expected to reduce barriers for students and families seeking to receive grants and loans.

The tighter IRS-DOE alignment also will help borrowers who, after graduation, enroll in income-driven repayment plans. Currently, those students must re-certify their income every year, creating opportunities for error that can result in unnecessarily high monthly loan bills. Under the new legislation, income will be updated automatically, with no action required by borrowers. 

“This one simple change will have a pretty huge impact for student borrowers,” said Kaitlyn Vitez, a director at the US Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy nonprofit. CNN notes that federal legislators are likely to consider additional FAFSA changes as part of ongoing negotiations over the Higher Education Act reauthorization.

Experts: Draft-related FAFSA fears ‘overhyped’

In other FAFSA news, observers have noticed an influx of comments on social media suggesting that filling out the FAFSA form could lead to student borrowers being drafted into military service, amid recent conflict between the United States and Iran. As CNBC explained, the form “requires most male students between the ages of 18 and 25 to register with Selected Service, known as the draft, in order to receive federal financial aid,” including Pell Grants, Federal Work Study, and Stafford Loans. Charlie Javice, founder and CEO of an online FAFSA platform called Frank, explained that federal student aid first came into being in 1944 as part of the GI Bill® to help returning World War II veterans learn trades and pursue higher education. During the Cold War, Congress expanded low-interest federal loan and debt forgiveness programs through the National Defense Education Act of 1958. The FAFSA emerged from the Higher Education Amendments of 1992, which built upon a model of distributing aid to veterans.

“The FAFSA wasn’t really created for civilians,” Javice said. “It was really created for our veterans, and then it evolved and evolved and evolved.”

But experts say that a draft is “extremely unlikely.” According to NPR, “the draft has not been held since 1973 and the military has been an all-volunteer force since then.” The lack of need for massive numbers of servicemen, the changing logistics of military training and operations, and the political volatility of such a decision all make fears of a draft “overhyped,” says Dan Byman, a professor at Georgetown University and a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Explore more information provided by the U.S. government about education benefits offered through the VA.

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