In a March 17 letter to the chair and ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, the ABA emphasized the unique educational needs of students in, or formerly in, foster care and those experiencing homelessness that need to be taken into account as changes are being considered to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The letter was sent by ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman in advance of a hearing held March 21 by the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development. The hearing focused on streamlining federal student aid during reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
Susman called on the committee to retain mechanisms for students to report their status as homeless or in foster care to ensure they are considered “independent” for purposes of financial aid calculations. The mechanisms, added to FAFSA in 2009, were ‘pivotal in making it easier for students without the support of their birth families to get the help they need to enter and complete postsecondary education.” He emphasized, however, that remaining barriers include:
•students failing to understand the questions about foster youth or homeless status;
•difficulty securing documentation of former foster youth or homeless status; and
•difficulty accessing assistance to complete FAFSA.
Susman pointed out that newly available data from the Department of Education indicates that students in foster care and unaccompanied homeless youth are severely under-identified as “independent” when accessing federal financial aid. He urged that additional protections be put in place to help identify these students.