The income and assets of parents who are unmarried or in a legally recognized same-sex marriage will be counted against college students’ federal aid, the U.S. Department of Education has announced.
The 2014-2015 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, will provide a new option for dependent applicants to describe their parents' marital status as "unmarried and both parents living together." Additionally, where appropriate, the new FAFSA form will also use terms like “Parent 1 (father/mother/stepparent)" and "Parent 2 (father/mother/stepparent)" instead of gender-specific terms like "mother" and "father."
"All students should be able to apply for federal student aid within a system that incorporates their unique family dynamics," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan."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."
Although the change is expected to reduce federal student aid for students from such families, the policy indicates the Obama administration’s willingness to work around the federal definition of marriage. According to the Education Department press release:
The FAFSA has long been constructed to collect information about a student's parents only if the parents are married. As a result, the FAFSA has excluded income and other information from one of the student's legal parents (biological or adoptive) when the parents are unmarried, even if those parents are living together. Gender-specific terms also fail to capture income and other information from one parent when a student's parents are in a same-sex marriage under state law but not federally recognized under the Defense of Marriage Act.
…The collection of information from both of a dependent student's parents is statutorily supported in the Higher Education Act (HEA), which generally includes the terms"parent" and "parents'" and not terms like"mother," "father," or "spouse." This change will not impact the longstanding and statutorily required provision that when a dependent student's parents are divorced, only information on the parent that the student resided with for the greater portion of the 12 months preceding the date of completing the FAFSA is to be reported.
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