Students who are children or legal dependants of same-sex couples may gain access to more generous federal financial aid in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, though the University’s financial aid policy will not change.
The Court’s decision means that the incomes of both spouses in a same-sex marriage will now be taken into consideration for students of same-sex couples applying for financial aid or currently paying off student loans. Married gay students will also be able to count their spouses’ income in applying for aid.
The new federal regulations affect all legally-married gay couples and all children of married gay couples, regardless of whether they attend college in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages, said Karen McCarthy, a policy analyst for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
But federal regulatory changes stemming from the decision will not affect the University’s financial aid policies because the Office of Financial Aid already considers married same-sex spouses as part of an aid applicant’s household when awarding aid, said Director of Financial Aid Jim Tilton.
“Not much is going to change,” Tilton said. “We’ve always looked at aid for what the student says the family situation is.”
But the new federal regulations will allow for a smoother financial aid process for the University, Tilton said, because it could increase dialogue between students and administrators about families’ financial situations.
“The striking down of DOMA helps everyone treat students exactly the same,” he said, adding that students with parents in same-sex marriages will feel like they can more freely approach his office for aid opportunities.
“We can really sit and deal with families” now that DOMA has been struck down, Tilton said. “It’s really going to open up the conversation about who really is involved in the family,” he added.
But Tilton said considering a broader definition of family when awarding financial aid does not necessarily correlate with receiving more aid, noting that in some cases, applicants may end up receiving less aid because both of their parents’ incomes are counted.
Married students affected by the decision will not necessarily receive more financial aid or easier loan repayment options than they did when DOMA was still the law, said Lucie Lapovsky, principal for Lapovsky Consulting and former president of Mercy College, a multi-campus institution in New York.
“It just depends on your family status,” Lapovsky said. “If you’re just a student and you are married to someone, your whole income will be considered.”
The reformed process for federal student loans will allow for a more accurate representation of families’ financial situations but does not automatically increase the amount of aid, McCarthy said.
Financial aid experts said the timeline for revising federal regulations on aid remains unclear.
“We don’t really have any guidance yet,” McCarthy said. Recommendations by the U.S. Department of Education on how the court’s ruling should affect federal financial aid are under review by the U.S. Department of Justice, which is still analyzing the impact of the Court’s decision striking down DOMA, McCarthy said.
Though many state governments currently use the federal financial aid application forms, it remains uncertain whether states that do not recognize same-sex marriage will change their application processes now that the federal application will recognize married same-sex couples, McCarthy said. If these states choose not to continue using the federal forms, they will have to design a completely different application process, McCarthy said.