Now, Cornell students might have an even more difficult time affording tuition due to calculation and format changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
On Dec. 27, 2020, Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act due to complaints about the form’s length and complexity. In addition to the 2024-2025 FAFSA being shorter, their financial aid formula has changed. Rather than calculating an Expected Family Contribution, the new version of the FAFSA calculates a Student Aid Index, which is an eligibility measure of the family’s financial strength. The SAI excludes the consideration of family members in college and establishes new eligibility criteria for Federal Pell Grants.
As the second child in her family to attend college, Ceci Rodriguez ’26 pays her tuition independently, relying on adequate financial assistance to fund her education. She annually completes the FAFSA to compute her eligibility for federal Pell Grants, federal student loans and financial aid provided by Cornell.
To Rodriguez’s surprise, the new version of the FAFSA released Dec. 31 no longer increases students’ eligible financial aid if they have siblings in college, a change which significantly reduces Rodriguez’s ability to afford her tuition.
“The FAFSA no longer providing a sibling discount is now a major economic stressor for me,” Rodriguez said.
Although Rodriguez has benefitted from her past financial aid awards, she is concerned that she may not be as fortunate for the 2024-2025 academic year due to the new federal student aid formula.
As a senior, Olivia Maday ’24 is particularly concerned for her two younger siblings in college who will see a drastic decrease in their financial aid next academic year. She feels that Cornell should increase their individual financial aid offers to account for students’ loss in federal aid.
Kevin Jensen, the executive director of Cornell’s Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment, affirmed that Cornell’s administration upholds their responsibility to meet 100 percent of undergraduate students’ demonstrated financial need, even in light of these issues in a statement to The Sun.
“If a student or family experiences a reduction in federal grant aid because of this or any of the many changes to the federal need analysis formula this year, Cornell grant aid will be increased to compensate for the loss,” Jensen said.
According to guidelines outlined on the Cornell Financial Aid website, if students’ eligibility status for federal Pell Grants changes, their Cornell grant or endowed scholarship will be adjusted to ensure their demonstrated need is fully met.
The Department of Education estimates that the new FAFSA takes roughly ten minutes, with some applicants answering as few as 18 questions. Despite its simplification, Maday found the new FAFSA to be just as difficult to navigate.
“I think [the revised FAFSA] will be beneficial in the long run, but currently, many students are struggling to learn this new format,” Maday said.
Austin Grattan ’26 echoed that the FAFSA’s updated format will be beneficial in subsequent years, but for now, the form remains tedious and time-consuming.
“In concept and in theory, [the new form] is better,” Grattan said. “But I found that when I actually did fill it out, it took almost the same amount of time because there were new rules that my dad and I did not really understand.”
This abridged version of the FAFSA also raised concerns over the holistic accuracy of its calculations for students with complicated family finances. Rodriguez and Maday said that they believe the extensive resources required for the old FAFSA seemed essential to generating an accurate report of their finances.
“Although it is easier to complete the newly shortened FAFSA, I do feel like necessary information about familial and economic circumstances are being omitted,” Rodriguez said.
Cornell Financial Aid attempts to combat this issue by requiring necessary financial information in the self-reported CSS Profile that students must complete in addition to the FAFSA.
Maday also questioned the efficiency of college financial aid offers given that the 2024-2025 FAFSA was released on Dec. 31, roughly three months later than the usual release date of Oct. 1. As Cornell’s first-year applicants are required to submit the FAFSA by Feb. 15 and continuing students must meet a March 1 deadline, students now have less time to complete the application. Students are concerned that they may also see delays in their financial aid packages since FAFSA information will be provided to colleges in late January, which is after most college application deadlines.
Jensen noted that a standard feature of Cornell’s undergraduate aid program protects students from fluctuations in federal aid programs, so the administration does not foresee enrollment issues due to these complications.
“We are hopeful that the Department of Education will implement the changes required by federal law and are well prepared to support students either way,” Jensen said.
Maday hopes the University will uphold its promise to students amid federal shortcomings and prove its commitment to advancing accessibility to higher education through its financial aid provision.
“Cornell’s motto is ‘any person, any study.’ I truly hope that Cornell stands by that motto, even when it comes to financial aid,” Maday said.