When lawmakers first created the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, in 1992, no state recognized civil unions or domestic partnerships between same-sex couples, let alone the freedom to marry. Ten states and the District of Columbia currently confer the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples—and that number is swiftly increasing.
Recognizing this changing landscape, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week a small but significant change to the FAFSA that will make the application a more fair, effective, and efficient tool for students seeking financial aid to help pay for their college education. Starting in 2014 the Department of Education will begin collecting demographic and financial information about families headed by same-sex parents to determine eligibility for and amounts of Pell Grants and federal student loans.
Each year more than 20 million families complete the FAFSA, and these families do not necessarily all have the same family structures that the FAFSA—with its roots in the 1950s—presumes. The announced change from the Department of Education simply brings the FAFSA up to date to reflect the changing nature of the American family. What’s more, because many states, colleges, universities, and other providers of financial aid build out from the information already collected on the FAFSA or are modeled after the FAFSA, the proposed changes will likely have a trickle-down effect such that the entire process will become more fair, efficient, and effective for all families.