Changes to financial aid process help students

Alex Sonnich, Washburn Review

The beginning of the new year signaled a familiar process for Washburn students. In January, students could begin filling out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA, which grants money to students paying for college. The FAFSA is coupled with looming scholarship deadlines and the past week’s priority deadline for securing financial aid from the university, which for many students means several trips to the financial aid office. 

“The priority date is February 15 of each year,” said Gail Palmer, director of financial aid at Washburn. “This date is primarily used for limited institutional scholarship funds and campus-based funding such as Perkins, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Federal Work Study.”

Although the financial aid office’s busiest months are generally April through September, the office makes many financial resources available to students, such as assisting in filling out FAFSA information and locating scholarships that can ease the pain of paying for school.

“Our office assists any and all students and families that wish to come into our office and receive assistance in filling out the online FAFSA,” said Palmer. “We also assist students in securing state and other institutional funding as well as providing requested information to outside funding sources.”

The processes for some of this financial assistance can be confusing, which is why students and parents often turn to financial aid to help. 

For instance, students who claim themselves as independents in their taxes may still be federally mandated to list themselves as dependents for federal aid. Since being financially independent for tax purposes does not immediately qualify a student for independent status to receive free federal aid, it becomes important to have resources available to guide one through the aid process.

Changes to these processes have been made this year in order to make it easier for students and parents to navigate. One example is how families can use the Internal Revenue Service’s Data Retrieval tool to quickly gather financial information crucial for many aid requests.

With over 70 percent of Washburn students receiving some form of financial assistance, any changes in state and federal funding could affect a large majority of the student population. Proposed changes are currently being debated in the Kansas legislature, with some reports hinting at an eight to 10 percent decrease in higher education funding for the next fiscal year. 

“Any state funding we receive through state scholarships or grants could be impacted,” said Palmer of the possible changes.

Though the financial aid office would not elaborate on these impacts, proponents of increasing funding to state colleges have argued that any cuts would negatively impact Kansas students’ choices in whether or not to attend college in the state. With less financial help available, they argue, more may choose to seek opportunities elsewhere or forego college entirely.

However, as students and faculty await the future of higher education financial aid, Palmer encourages college kids to actively seek out financial opportunities and apply for them right away. They never know what they may qualify for.

“Apply early and diligently look for any and all outside resources,” said Palmer.