Among the Creative Solutions to Pay for College proposed by sociology professors Laura Hamilton and Elizabeth A. Armstrong is a radical change in defining the notorious Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This idea has some merit, but would it let slacker parents slough off their financial responsibilities?
2. Use different measures of dependency. Need-based student aid and loan amounts are typically calculated using the federal government’s estimate for “expected family contribution” — which may not bear any relation to the parental assistance students actually receive. Undergraduate students are considered dependents unless they have children or are: over 23, married, a member of the military, an orphan, a ward of the court, an emancipated minor, homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Dependents must report parental income on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and it is considered in calculating the expected family contribution. This poses a severe hardship for students who are financially independent. A measurement based on student reports of actual expected contributions would alleviate this burden. Given the financial constraints families face, there would be temptation to game the system. However, students and parents could sign a legally binding document stating their financial relationship (if any), and proof may be required to show financial independence through individual earnings in the first year of college.
This proposal addresses the frustrations felt by those unlucky students whose parents, even if they could afford it, will not financially support their children’s college education. Yet for purposes of qualifying for financial aid, these students are stuck unless they fit into one of the narrow categories listed above. For example, in cases of deadbeat dads, middle-income families deep in debt, or prosperous but anti-education parents, the children may not qualify for aid under current rules. Often these children are essentially self-supporting, but cannot be considered independent in the application process.
Too many opportunities to game the system
While this idea seems reasonable in some respects, it also seems ripe for abuse. Legal documents and tax records may screen out some would-be moochers, but loopholes would allow many to qualify for money. Business owners in particular could easily set their kids up with “jobs” that would make them appear self-supporting. And it’s easy to imagine a scenario where a “financially independent” student would regularly receive generous cash gifts and other goodies from his parents while remaining eligible to receive financial aid.
No thanks. The rules as they stand are onerous and imperfect, but I don’t believe the suggested solution is a better option.
Related: Why does the EFC come as a shock to many parents? (Cost of College)