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More About College Financial Aid and Stepparents



FROM A COMMUNITY COLLEGE FINANCIAL ADVISOR: This is in response to the stepfather who wrote to your column questioning why his income information was required for his stepchild's financial aid application, especially since he was under no legal obligation to pay for the child's college expenses.

The methodology established by the federal government to determine eligibility for Title IV funds requires information about the applicant's basic family unit including income, family size, etc. For students whose parents have divorced and remarried, the student must provide information about the parent and stepparent who provided more than fifty percent of the child's support in the base income year. As far as the Department of Education is concerned, they do not view a blended family any differently from a traditional family.

Is this fair? This may not be so much an issue of equity as the as it is a failure of the government to design a method to distribute limited government funds that will be embraced by all people as totally fair and unbiased based on today's complicated social and cultural issues.

In this day and age, when blended and single parent families are more the norm than traditional biological/legal family units of father, mother, and children, the government must draw the line somewhere. Trying to gather and sort out information from separated or divorced parents oftentimes would be very difficult, especially in very complicated situations. It is difficult enough to piece together parent information with the correct student when the remarried parent has a different last name from the child.

Stepparents who are asked to provide information for financial aid purposes must realize that by supplying information they are not obligating themselves to pay the stepchild's educational expenses; however, if the family provides more than fifty percent of the child's support, in a sense the stepparent has already contributed to the child's educational expenses because room and board, utilities, and transportation are all expenses taken into consideration in addition to tuition, fees, and books when determining total educational cost.

Note From Flying Solo: If "blended families" are more the norm, then it seems like the government should devise another method to determine the amount of aid. No matter the difficulty, we still believe that it is inequitable -- and downright illegal -- to require financial information from a person who has no legal obligation to the child in question.

© 1998, Flying Solo



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