LGBTQ+ students who have been disowned or kicked out of their homes face systemic barriers to federal financial aid, Teen Vogue reports. Applying for financial aid can be a difficult process for students generally, but for those who are estranged from their families, it can pose greater difficulties. To apply for federal financial aid, a student must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which parents are legally required to sign.
“The federal student aid programs are based on the concept that it is primarily your and your family’s responsibility to pay for your education,” says the Department of Education.
To receive federal financial aid, students must submit their parental income information, which is then factored into all financial aid offers until a student is 24 years old, even if those parents don’t contribute to their child’s education. The application will be rejected without that information, unless the student has applied for and secured “independent status,” which can be granted to those experiencing homelessness or emancipated minors. But obtaining independent status is a challenging process in its own right. “You can’t be considered independent of your parents just because they refuse to help you with this process,” says the official StudentAid.gov FAQ.
A disproportionate share of LGBTQ youth navigate complicated family relationships. In one survey from The Trevor Project/Human Rights Commission, 26% of LGBTQ+ youth said that their parents’ or family’s lack of acceptance was the most difficult problem in their lives, Teen Vogue reports. They are also 120% more likely to face homelessness than their peers, per data from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Reducing barriers to aid
Some changes have made it easier for students who are cut off from their families to apply for federal aid. In December 2020, Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act, which streamlines the FAFSA form and revises some aspects of how independent status is determined. Rather than having students declare their independent status each year they apply for financial aid, new provisions allow students to keep that designation moving forward. They also broaden the definition of “homeless” and provide additional ways for students to prove homelessness. Some of these changes have been delayed, however, and some officials worry that students who would benefit from these reforms the most do not know they exist.
A new “provisional independent” status form will also allow students to apply for financial aid without their parents’ information.
“We’re asking [students] to jump through truly a lot of hoops in order to get to college,” Margaux Cowden, chief programs officer for the LGBTQ+ scholarship fund Point Foundation, tells Teen Vogue. “You really need to be either an incredible self-advocate or you need to have someone who’s supporting you with that.”