The truths and troubles of FAFSA

Emily Pfaff and Emily Pfaff

By Emily Pfaff
City Times

The City College Office of Financial Aid helps over 12,000 students each semester find the financial means to attend school.

Despite the collaborative efforts of politicians, school advisors, students and voters, the system of aid distribution in America continues to be greatly flawed.

The sole purpose of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is to determine a students eligibility for aid. It is not, however, financial aid.

Eligibility factors include age, income, family income (students are considered dependent until the age of 24) and household size, among a slew of others.

“We are in strict limitation to those who are in need,” says Teresa Vilaboy, Student Services Supervisor at the City College of Financial Aid.

Teresa who has worked in financial aid for 15 years says, “in the past there were other questions to make you independent but they excluded these questions to put pressure on parents, it was also an issue of government funding.”

The US Budget Committee provides congress with an annual blue print of revenues and spending but the US Appropriations Committee, the committee that holds power over taxes and entitlements (guaranteed access to benefits of rights), controls funding for federal programs like Medicare, Medicaid and social security. Government officials, elected by American voters, decide how this money is spent.

“Congressional Methodology,” says Teresa Vilaboy, in response to how factors for eligibility are determined for the FAFSA, “it is approved by your congressman and it occurs every four years.”

Our financial advisors can offer a shoulder to cry on, or kind ear, but ultimately it is up to voters and our elected officials to make the changes necessary to ensure equal educational opportunity. An opportunity that is steadily escaping the majority of American students.

Issues concerning students at City College include; childcare, employment, mental health services, and housing. City College caters to a variety of students, average age 27, some of whom are homeless.

For most, the concern is not paying for tuition but obtaining the finances necessary to complete their education. Rising rates of inflation, along with high costs of living can make attaining a degree an uphill battle.

Ian Penn, environmental science major at City College, is pretty happy with financial aid but says he’s been a, “sophomore for years.”

“I don’t have to pay for my tuition,” said Ian.

Ian, like many other City College students, accredits the Board of Governors Fee Waiver as being instrumental to receiving his education.

Tony Medina, 34, has a Masters in Counseling and is two years from receiving his PhD, a part time physical education student at City, he feels more should be done to help younger students.

In reference to the FAFSA’s age limitation for considering dependency, Tony says, “That hurts a lot of students.”

When first starting out, Tony recalls how difficult times were, “…if I wasn’t waiting tables I wouldn’t have been able to make it.”

In the US Annual Budget report, education shares funding with other programs, “training, employment, and social services,” and in 2004 was allotted 87, 945 million dollars while national defense received 455,908 million. Estimates for national defense for 2010 show an increase of 50 million dollars, with a decrease of about 4 million for “education, training, employment, and social services”.

Cuts in funding for educational programs sacrifices the intellectual and financial future of generations of American students. Also, increases in the cost of living are not adequately reflected in funding for federal aid programs.

“Put pressure on your representatives,” says Teresa.

City College students aren’t alone in the battle for education, putting pressure on representatives while staying informed on changes being made in U.S.domestic policy is the only way for US citizens to safeguard democracy in America.

A list of representatives can be obtained at the Financial Aid Office on campus or online at www.house.gov/writerep.

(Emily Pfaff is a City Times staff writer and cartoonist)