OPINION: FAFSA, stop using my parents’ income to determine my access to aid

I’m the one paying for it, not them, I assure you


Robbie Pierce

Graphic made in Canva

Robbie Pierce

I’m poor. My family back home is middle class at best.

So why is FAFSA acting like I’m some silver spooner?

My parents both work. It’s never been a habit for them to share the specifics of their income with me or vice versa, but based on what I gather from FAFSA, they make quite a bit on paper.

The average income in California is $71,805 against a national average of $60,336. In addition, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,136 in California — even higher than that in the county where my parents live — and only $750 nationwide.

My parents also have a grand total of five mouths to feed, even with me out of the house.

Mr. FAFSA, please understand that Kentucky’s “Rich Enough to Pay For Your Kid’s College,” is California’s “Enough to Get By.” I’m not entirely sure what reasoning you use to get your “Expected Family Contribution” going, but it wouldn’t pass a writing-intensive course here. 

FAFSA considers your parents’ income when determining how much aid you can receive up until you are 24, even if you no longer live with them. Was I supposed to wait until six years after high school to start my bachelor’s?

My financial aid package — I receive only a capped amount of loans and do not qualify for grants — for the fall 2019 semester actually ended up being like $20 shy of my fees. I work, so it wasn’t anything that threw me out of orbit, but it felt like such a slap in the face.

If I was allowed to sign for my own loans independent of my parent’s income, I’d be able to pay for the entirety of my tuition and textbooks every semester without issue and use the leftovers to pay for or at least help out with rent and bills, so I could actually focus more on studying during the semester rather than, “How many bags of concrete was that, sir?”

(I work at a hardware store.)

And keep in mind we’re talking about loans, not scholarships. I’m literally not asking for a handout. I am a fully formed adult capable of voting, drinking, gambling and signing up for the military.

I should be able to take out my own loans to pay for my own education — and that’s all I request. The ability to throw myself into debt like everyone else. 

Socially, being told by the government you should be set-for-life rich when you’re routinely maxing out credit cards just to keep the lights on feels like gaslighting.

I had a moment the other day where a friend of mine was telling me about some thrift stores in the area and I was about to chide them for taking away an important resource for the poor for the sake of fashion — and then I remembered. We’re poor, too.

In an editorial last semester, my fellow editors and I urged the next California State University chancellor to factor in “the students who are denied financial aid because of the income of parents who aren’t supporting their children in college” when attempting to understand the financial burden of the modern student.

I hope that someday FAFSA will do the same. I mean, I also hope that someday college will just be outright free. 

But baby steps.