Faster FAFSA: New bill would speed up financial aid application

McClatchy Washington BureauJune 19, 2014 

Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., on Thursday announced plans for a bill that would dramatically simplify the 108-question FAFSA.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the form students must fill out every year in college to see if they qualify for federal financial aid. Colleges and universities also use it to determine financial need.

Alexander and Bennet want to whittle the FAFSA form to two questions: What is your family’s size? And, what was your household income two years ago?

The FAFSA now is many pages of detailed questions. The senators propose reducing it to the size of a postcard. They say the current FAFSA form is too complicated and long for families to fill out, and discourages some students from applying.

“What we’re doing is starting from scratch to try to turn 108 questions into a postcard and get some money to where it should go to the eligible students who want to go to college,” Alexander said.

The legislation also makes some other changes, including allowing low-income students who qualify for Pell grants to use them year-round and simplifying student loan repayment options.

Alexander and Bennet discussed their goals at a press conference Thursday and outlined them in an op-ed in The New York Times. They projected that their proposed application form would cover 90 to 95 percent of students.

Congressional interns were invited to the press conference and asked some questions. Some wondered what would happen with the estimated 5 to 10 percent of applications that required more detail, such as when a family has more than one child in college.

There’s a tendency in policy-making to “think of every single eventuality or every single circumstance,” Bennet said. “If we can take care of 90 or 95 percent of folks, then we can worry about what to do with 5 percent in the end.”

Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network, a non-profit profit organization that helps low-income students apply to college, said there are other forms beyond FAFSA that can help students and parents to clarify their particular circumstances.

Alexander is the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a former secretary of education. Bennet, who’s also on the Senate education committee, is a former Denver superintendent of schools.

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