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Senate bill would help families by stopping change of financial aid requirement

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Posted at 11:29 PM, May 10, 2023

Changes to Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) could eliminate farm families' access to financial aid.

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators is urging the U.S. Department Of Education to halt the move saying it could plummet college enrollment rates for rural students.

Farm and ranch families are potentially facing the difficult decision of whether or not to send their children to college because of changes in FAFSA that could make higher education less affordable.

Family farmers face many challenges in trying to make a profit.

Sarah Degn, a Sidney farmer, planted corn seeds using a tractor she borrowed from a neighboring farmer, on Wednesday.

She's worried about saving up for college for her eighth-grade daughter.

She was counting on federal aid and learned that may not be available.

"There's no way to afford it on your own like we did 20 years ago," Degn said.

A new rule for FAFSA goes into effect in December.

It requires farmers to include their land and equipment, something that is currently excluded when looking at income eligibility for aid.

The requirement could also affect non-agriculture families, as well.

More than 85% of college students or 17.7 million currently receive some type of financial aid.

It's unclear how many students these changes will impact.

"You can't sell a tractor, you can't sell your cows to get your kid into college," said Degn. "That's part of your operation that you need to keep it going."

Walter Schweitzer, president of the Montana Farmers Union, says he's hearing those concerns from farmers across the state.

He says some may be forced to consider putting their farms up as collateral in order to pay for the kids' college education.

"For most farmers and ranchers, the education is so important to their families that they put their farm at risk," Schweitzer said.

His two daughters have already graduated from college.

One attended law school and one has a Ph.D.

"If I would have had to have paid their full tuition for both of them, it would have been 70 or 80,000 dollars a year," Schweitzer said. "And we just don't have that kind of income on the farm."

Fortunately, help could be on the way.

"If we don't do this, it's just gonna eliminate the college opportunity for a lot of kids," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Tester has joined several Senators, including Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., on a bi-partisan bill that would fix the problem and bring it back to the current standard.

'We've got a piece of legislation that will stop the Department Of Education from denying the fact that we've got a lot of kids out there that are eligible for financial aid if you use income numbers," said Tester.

Farmers like Degn hope it passes.

"We're a pretty resilient bunch," Degn said about farmers and ranchers. "We're used to facing different big hurdles. But the fact that our kids might not be able to go to college because we own tractors doesn't seem real fair."