Simplifying the process for applying for federal student aid is a high priority among lawmakers, higher education stakeholders, and students and parents. But the extent to which states rely on information collected via the FAFSA could make it difficult to streamline the process, according to a new report.
To gather information for the report, the Education Commission of the States (ECS) surveyed financial aid directors in 23 states and the District of Columbia through an online survey sent over the listserv for the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs (NASSGAP). ECS then examined the remaining 27 states using its 50-State Financial Aid Policy Database.
Overall, ECS found that 32 states plus the District of Columbia use at least three of five major FAFSA data elements to administer their own state aid programs. A majority of survey respondents also said that states have “an important role to play in informing federal financial aid policy development, but lack clear pathways to exert influence on reform discussions.” What’s more, the respondents disagreed that the FAFSA is overly complicated, time consuming, or burdensome for students and families.
“These opinions run explicitly counter to much of the rhetoric surrounding simplification in the HELP committee or among college access and affordability advocates,” the report said.
Some respondents said that removing certain data or information from the FAFSA could make it more difficult for them to administer their own limited resources, and that simplification should be approached “cautiously,” warning that too much simplification could result in states adding their own applications.
ECS recommended in the report that moving forward, states should be included in simplification efforts, that federal and state leaders need to define what the FAFSA is intended to do, that any changes to the Expected Family Contribution formula should be done with state input, and that states should be open to change.
“States risk being perceived as a barrier to making aid accessible for students if they demonstrate an unwillingness to change,” the report said. “However, these conversations are a two-way street – states cannot readily adapt to changes that they have had little or no opportunity to respond to or comply with.”
Publication Date: 4/5/2017