Opinion: Fix FAFSA to aid students who don’t live with their parents

An EdWeek opinion piece from the 2014 Montana state teacher of the year Anna Baldwin suggests that one change to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form could make a big difference for students being raised by someone other than their parents.

Baldwin, who recently served as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education, teaches at Arlee High School, located in the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. Seventy percent of the student body is Native American. She says many of the school’s students do not have a relationship with their parents due to the parents’ substance abuse, incarceration, or extended absences from their children’s lives.

The current FAFSA process, however, asks college hopefuls to procure the bank balances, social security numbers, and signatures of their parents—requirements that are often impossible for Baldwin’s students to fulfill.

Approximately one-third of Baldwin’s students are being raised by someone other than their parents—grandparents, aunts, and uncles who can offer little financial support. The students’ parents have signed a limited release allowing these guardians to make academic decisions in the parents’ stead, but such releases are not recognized by FAFSA. Almost none of Baldwin’s students have transferred guardianship via the court system. “It takes a lot of work and money to change guardians, and many of our students’ families simply never go that route,” Baldwin writes.

Baldwin asserts that the FAFSA form should change to include an option for students who no longer live with their parents. Baldwin says the “simple fix could make a huge difference for large numbers of high school students who—despite familial circumstances tying them to the lowest achievement bar of a high school diploma—are doing everything right: seeking opportunity, learning how to navigate college admissions and other procedures, and following their relatives’ exhortations to make the most of themselves.”

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