May 1, 2013
For years federal financial aid forms have only acknowledged married, heterosexual parents when determining a student's aid eligibility. Soon unwed parents and those in same-sex partnerships will also be recognized -- a shift marriage equality advocates applaud -- even if it means some students will get less help paying for college.
The U.S. Department of Education announced on Monday that by 2014, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, will be amended to recognize students with same-sex parents and those whose parents are living together but unmarried. The new form will provide an "unmarried and both parents living together" option for students and will replace "mother/stepmother" and "father/stepfather" with "Parent 1" and "Parent 2."
"All students should be able to apply for federal student aid within a system that incorporates their unique family dynamics," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in the announcement. "These changes will allow us to more precisely calculate federal student aid eligibility based on what a student's whole family is able to contribute and ensure taxpayer dollars are better targeted toward those students who have the most need, as well as provide an inclusive form that reflects the diversity of American families."
According to Inside Higher Ed, the change may actually result in many students receiving less aid: A 2011 study from the Center for American Progress found that by not counting the income of both parents in a same-sex relationship, students' financial need was often overestimated. In cases where the second parent does not work or earns very little, however, financial need can actually be underestimated because family size is a key part of the eligibility formula.
Whatever the new FAFSA's financial implications, the Washington Blade notes that LGBT groups praise the U.S. Department of Education's acknowledgement of nontraditional families.
"(The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) has long worked to ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity are not used to discriminate against students in our nation's K-12 schools, whether that student identifies as LGBT, has LGBT friends, or comes from an LGBT family," GLSEN Director of Public Policy Shawn Gaylord told the Washington Blade. "We're thrilled by the Department of Education's decision to allow students filling out the FAFSA to accurately describe the makeup of their family, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
The Department of Education's announcement comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal institutions from recognizing same-sex marriages. Department of Education spokesperson Jane Glickman told the Washington Blade that it is too early to say whether the planned FAFSA changes would be in violation of DOMA, should it be upheld.
"We won't know the answer to that until the Court has issued its decision and we have reviewed that decision," said Glickman.
Compiled by Aimee Hosler
"Aid Applicants With 2 Mothers," insidehighered.com, April 30, 2013, Libby A. Nelson
"Dept. of Education to recognize same-sex parents," washingtonblade.com, April 29, 2013, Chris Johnson
"Education Department Announces Changes to FAFSA Form to More Accurately and Fairly Assess Students' Need for Aid," ed.gov, April 29, 2013