Changes May Be Coming for Selective Service and Financial Aid
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By Brian O'Connell

March 1, 2019

A federal court ruling has turned the Selective Service registration requirement on its head, and that could have big ramifications for college students seeking financial aid.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller ruled on February 22, 2019 that the draft’s men-only registration model, administered by the U.S. Selective Service System, is obsolete, thus making the draft unconstitutional in Judge Miller’s view.

While the ruling won’t topple the military draft right away, several outcomes are possible. The most likely possibilities include:

  • Congress could require all Americans, including women and transgender people, to sign up for Selective Service
  • Congress could abolish the military draft altogether, and nobody would be required to sign up for Selective Service

Absent a victory on appeal by the U.S. government, which would keep the status quo intact, any other outcome could shake up the eligibility requirements for federal student financial aid.

Under current U.S. Department of Education rules, all male college students between the ages of 18 and 25 seeking federal student financial aid must be registered with Selective Service. Male college students over the age of 25 who did not register must submit documentation why they couldn’t register during that time period.

Female and transgender collegians seeking college financial aid currently don’t have to register with the Selective Service to receive federal financial aid. But, the judicial ruling throws a monkey wrench into the government’s bureaucratic model of tying student financial aid eligibility with signing up for Selective Service.

For now, women and transgender students don’t have to register with Selective Service. Yet a year from now, they may have to, depending on the outcome of any court appeals or action by Congress.

Selective Service and Financial Aid: Judicial Ruling Impact

The fallout from the ruling could have a direct impact on college students in line to receive federal college financial aid.

Under Selective Service statutes, the registration requirement mandates that sign-up is based on the registrant’s sex observed at birth – not on gender identity.

That’s no problem if the draft winds up being reinstated upon appeal. Transgender Americans – especially those U.S. men who had transition to the female gender – could simply file for an exclusion.

To receive federal student aid, male students must register with Selective Service by age 18. If they did not register and they are past the age 18-25 window, they must prove by a preponderance of evidence that their failure to register is not knowing and willful.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) makes it easy to register, with a simple checkbox. Currently, if you’re a male between the ages of 18 and 25, just check the box and you’ll be registered with Selective Service.

Yet the main complexity has involved transgender students. The Selective Service System clarified that the requirement to register is based on the gender at birth, as listed on the birth certificate.

That opens potentially significant issues, depending on the outcome of the military draft judicial ruling.

The non-binary issue. A few states now allow for a non-binary gender choice on birth certificates. While this isn’t an issue of immediate consequence, it does bear watching. With the judicial ruling in play, a student changing their gender on their birth certificate would not be able to alter their college financial aid status, as the rule is still the gender originally listed on the birth certificate. 

Some states allow non-binary gender on birth certificates. The states that do allow non-binary gender on birth certificates include Washington DC, New York, Oregon and California. The FAFSA does not currently accept non-binary gender on its application.

What if women and transgender Americans have to sign up for the draft? The court ruling states that the U.S. military draft (and indirectly, the Selective Service System) is unconstitutional on equal protection grounds, given that women can now serve in the military.

That could lead Selective Service registration requirement to be extended to women in addition to men, and by extension, to transgender Americans. Or, the Selective Service System could be abolished entirely, opening a new can of worms in the bureaucratic relationship between Selective Service and college financial aid, especially for transgender Americans.

In current system, transgender students who transitioned from male to female, and who seek financial aid, must sign up for Selective Service. Additionally, they must do so based on the college student’s gender listed on that student’s birth certificate, not the gender listed on the FAFSA.

Transgender students who transitioned from females to male, and who are seeking college financial aid from Uncle Sam, don’t have to register with Selective Service, although it’s advisable to do so to avoid any bureaucratic paperwork issues that could derail student financial aid.

Any changes in the Selective Service laws, including the inclusion of women and transgenders in a reformatted military draft, could have serious repercussions on who is and who isn’t eligible for college financial aid, based on the Selective Service draft status.

What about males over the age of 26 – who didn’t sign up for Selective Service? Under current U.S law, male Americans age 26 and older who failed to register with the Selective Service before reaching age 26 are technically ineligible for federal student aid and other federal and state benefits.

Males who are age 26 or older may currently make a case that they couldn’t sign up for Selective Service for a good reason, like they were ill, injured or living outside the U.S. for the entire registration period. They must demonstrate that their failure to register wasn’t knowing and willful.

With the new judicial ruling, those cases involving older men who failed to register are in limbo, as well, depending on how the Selective Service issue plays out in court, and possibly in Congress.

Up in the Air

For now, it’s all a “wait and see” game with Selective Service and federal student financial aid.

With the military draft ruled unconstitutional, and the possibility of Selective Service going away, affirming one’s eligibility for student financial aid just got a lot hazier – for all genders.

A good place to start:

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