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Colorado college worries FAFSA changes will hurt some rural students

The federal government simplified the FAFSA form starting with the 2024-25 school year, but the changes won't help everyone.

GREELEY, Colo. — The form is practically a prerequisite to a college education, but changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) may soon make college less affordable for some families. 

The form makes students eligible for aid from their schools and the federal government. Lawmakers have approved an effort to simplify the form, starting with applications for aid for the 2024-25 school year. 

But among those changes, University of Northern Colorado Financial Aid Director Marty Somero said, will be new disclosure requirements for families who own farms or small businesses. Those assets will now be counted as part of a family's ability to pay for college, and will lower the amount of aid for which they qualify. 

"It's going to be a gut check for us and for the families," Somero said. "We believe UNC will be fairly hard hit with the number of local small businesses and farmers in our community." 

He estimates as many as one in ten UNC students could lose aid because of the farm and small business changes to the system. 

Other families could also be at risk because FAFSA will no longer attempt to mitigate the cost of having multiple students enrolled in higher education at the same time. 

"There are a lot of families where higher education and the cost of it are on the edge one way or the other to begin with," Somero said. "I imagine we will lose some students along the way -- all schools will lose some students along the way -- because of these changes, which were not the intent by any means."

He said there will be advantages for some students -- single parents among them -- but UNC and other schools are working to find other ways to try to help students who will lose aid. 

"We’re already discussing with our continuing students to see if there are donations or foundation funds that we can use to try to help our current students complete through graduation," Somero said. 

He said a group of lawmakers in Washington is looking to alter the new FAFSA process to smooth out the issues, but he doubts changes will be made before the form opens for applications in December. 

"That’s a tough bet to make. Hopefully there will be some changes down the line, but I expect families need to brace themselves for at least the 24-25 [school year] with those changes being impactful on their situation," he said.

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