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Education Department to use neutral terms for 'mother,' 'father' on financial aid forms

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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, left, talks to a crowd of people at Perry Child Development Center in Ypsilanti, Mich. on Monday, May 6, 2013. (AP Photo/AnnAbor.Com, Daniel Brenner)

Federal officials -- for the first time -- plan to make provisions on the application for student aid for same-sex marriages, as well as unions where both parents are residing together but are not legally married.

The U.S. Department of Education reports on its website that the 2014-2015 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, will, where applicable, replace gender-specific terms like “mother” and “father” with those like "Parent 1 (father/mother/stepparent)" and "Parent 2 (father/mother/stepparent)." The FAFSA also will provide a new option for applicants to describe parents' marital status as "unmarried and both parents living together."

"All students should be able to apply for federal student aid within a system that incorporates their unique family dynamics."

- Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education

"All students should be able to apply for federal student aid within a system that incorporates their unique family dynamics," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement. "These changes will allow us to more precisely calculate federal student aid eligibility based on what a student's whole family is able to contribute and ensure taxpayer dollars are better targeted toward those students who have the most need, as well as provide an inclusive form that reflects the diversity of American families."

Department of Education officials pointed out the new FAFSA does not contradict the federal Defense of Marriage Act because the Higher Education Act (HEA), under which it operates and dispenses aid, generally includes terms like "parent" and "parents'" and not "mother," "father" or "spouse."

The FAFSA changes are potentially pivotal for some students since the information collected is used in the calculation of applicants’ expected family contribution (EFC), which not only determines eligibility for federal student aid but also aid from many states, institutions and private programs.

“It is critical that both of a dependent student's parents help pay, to the extent they are able, for the educational expenses of their child” reads a DOE release. ”Collecting parental information from both of a dependent student's legal parents will result in fair treatment of all families by eliminating longstanding inequities based on parents' relationship with each other rather than on their relationship with their child.”

The DOE said the FAFSA alterations will change some students’ eligibility, decreasing it in some instances because of the inclusion of a previously discounted parent's income in the EFC.

Also, the DOE said, “In a small number of instances, the student would be eligible for more aid because the offset for an additional person in the parents' household, a factor in calculating the EFC, will exceed the income of the second parent.”

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