Skip to content

Ernst Fights for Farm Families Cut Out of College Aid

WASHINGTON – Considering the Department of Education’s (Ed) failure to provide farm families with transparency surrounding Ed’s botched rollout of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is leading 13 colleagues in demanding answers for agricultural communities.  

The lawmakers wrote, “We write today to share our concerns specifically in reference to Question 22—Student Assets, which requires each student to report the net worth of their family’s businesses or for-profit agricultural operations. This question fundamentally misunderstands how farm families operate, as the stream of revenue for crops and livestock varies significantly year-over-year, and assets cannot be cashed out to support a loan in the same capacity as traditional investments.”

“These assets can range well into the millions of dollars, with the price of a combine harvester alone often exceeding $400,000. This, in combination with projected declines in revenue for nearly every agricultural sector for the 2023 harvest, indicates Ed lacked critical insight needed to develop this asset reporting requirement.”

“An estimate from Iowa College Aid shows that under the previous Expected Family Contribution (EFC) formula, a family with a combined $60,000 annual income and $1 million in associated farming assets would be expected to contribute $7,626 annually towards their child’s tuition. Under the new formula, the Student Aid Index (SAI), that number will balloon to a $41,056 contribution. We reiterate our concern with the nature of this question, and the lack of insight on how the adjusted formula will impact students from agriculture backgrounds.”

They demanded answers about who Ed consulted from rural agricultural communities to develop the guidance and how the agency expects students to utilize it, considering the lack of transparency surrounding ag asset estimates.

Read the full letter here.


The FAFSA form is typically accessible to students on Oct. 1 of each year, to allow for ample time to submit financial information in advance of both state and school-specific deadlines for aid eligibility. However, due to incomplete planning measures, the Department released this year’s version three months late, drastically condensing the timeline for families to submit for aid.

Ernst wants to ensure students from families with small businesses and farms can pursue a higher education. In 2023, she introduced the Family Farm and Small Business Exemption Act to reverse recent changes to the FAFSA process that could reduce or even eliminate access to need-based student aid for farm families and small business owners. She also introduced the Student Transparency for Understanding Decisions in Education Net Terms (STUDENT) Act to give prospective students an estimate of the total amount of interest they would pay on a loan.