Opinion: Gateway to a free education

Tim Eggerding

Tim Eggerding

By Angela Loiacono

It’s the next-best thing to money growing on trees. The U.S. Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the closest any student will come to Alan Greenspan handing them a briefcase full of bundled cash. In today’s world, a college education is no longer a privilege – it’s a necessity. With tuition costs rising across the country (including a possible 7 percent hike for returning University students next fall), there is no reason why every student shouldn’t take advantage of this government offering.

FAFSA offers financial support to students enrolled in a four- or two-year educational institution, career school or trade school. If you’re busy reading the DI instead of listening to your professor, this applies to you – so pay attention.

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A study done by the American Council on Education found that half of the 8 million undergraduates enrolled at participating FAFSA institutions from 1999 to 2000 did not even complete the FAFSA form. This isn’t surprising, considering only about 16,000 of the 38,800 students at this University take advantage of federal financial aid, Bob Andersen, associate director of financial aid at the University, told me.

Think of it this way. Let’s say the U.S. Department of Education has set up a kiosk in the middle of the Henry Administration Building directly to the left of the tuition drop-off box. When the tuition payment period rolls around, all a student has to do is hand in some paperwork and the Department of Education will hand them a check for their tuition. Granted, this is not the exact FAFSA procedure but chances are few students would pass up the opportunity to have their tuition covered by the government.

Why, then, have four million undergraduates across the country chosen not to file a FAFSA? Why aren’t students at least trying to earn financial aid? The concept is baffling to me. The government has actually developed a solid program to help students earn a high-quality education, despite rising tuition costs. Yet, students across the country are turning the other way.

Some students claim that the four pages and accompanying worksheets that make up the FAFSA are too intimidating and difficult to fill out. If my parents asked me why I hadn’t tried to apply for financial aid, I don’t think explaining that my college-level intellect found the form too hard would be the best option. I have a feeling I would find myself on the first bus back to the Chicago suburbs with no return ticket. Really, there is no excuse. On campus, students have access to the U.S. Department of Education Student Guide to help alleviate any confusion, not to mention campus resources such as the financial-aid office or student advisers.

The second-most popular excuse for choosing not to file the FAFSA is that many students feel their parents make too much money for them to earn financial aid. Although many well-off families might not receive aid, filing the paperwork still won’t hurt.

Trying to save your parents money is a respectable action. Students can’t always be financially dependent on their parents – especially once they enter college. Students also need to understand that the FAFSA allows them to be eligible for loans that can be paid back after college. The Department of education even will cover the interest of the loan while the borrower is in school.

It has been my experience that ignorance is more common when it comes to the actions of young people; however, we’re talking about free money here. Filling out the FAFSA is not just some school assignment you can overlook. It’s a gateway to a free education. Cut naptime a little short and fill out the FAFSA – it becomes available again Jan. 1.

Angela Loiacono is a sophomore in LAS. Her column runs Fridays. She can be reached at [email protected]