College is a very expensive choice these days and many parents make sacrifices so their child can obtain a college degree. Whether a person considers the student or the parents should take responsibility for the costs is largely irrelevant, as the federal government expect that the family shoulder the responsibility of the costs, based on their ability to do so.
The colleges also share the same view that it is the families’ responsibility, rather than the responsibility of the federal government or the colleges, to contribute to an expected level determined by their income and other factors. It should be noted that the student is considered part of the family and thus expected to contribute alongside the parents.
A student is considered under law as a dependant until they reach 24, and is thus reliant on certain things from the parents. One such reliance is on the parent to provide financial information on the FAFSA application, which determines the expected family contribution. If a parent refuses to sign the form or give the necessary information, then the student is unable to apply for federal or state grants, or federal subsidized loans.
There are certain circumstances where a student under the age of 24 is no longer considered a dependant and thus not reliant on any parental co-operation or contribution. Those deemed to be independent under the age of 24 are veterans, married students, post graduate students, or those who have legal dependants of their own.
A student who is considered dependant and whose parents refuse to co-operate with the application process, or contribute with their expected family contribution, may need to wait until they are 24 to continue with post secondary education.
Families are not expected to pay for the total costs of college, but rather have their expected contribution assessed based on income. Some colleges take different views when estimating family contributions, but the federal requirement considers earnings, savings, family size and number of children in college. Harvard does not take a families home equity or retirement savings into consideration, whilst Yale assesses home equity and investments.
Certain colleges now stipulate that a student contribution is expected, usually in the region of $2000. Students can pay this through summer earnings and savings. In addition those who receive financial aid are awarded work through the federal work program, and the amount earned is considered as part of their financial aid package.
Loans which students assume are in their own name although parents may apply for a federal PLUS loan to assist their child. In addition to the expected family contribution parents of those students who apply for private student loans need to decide if they will co-sign their child’s loan, which leaves them equally liable for any potential debt. There are however ways to protect the family savings from being assessed.
There are large numbers of potential students who are unable to attend college due to their parent’s unwillingness to complete the FAFSA application. Without the ability to apply for student loans the costs of college can be too prohibitive, and financial aid cannot be assessed without the taking into account the family estimated contribution. This makes it clear that without parental support, college remains out of reach for some students, even if they are prepared to work their way through college.