Ongoing Barriers to College Aid

"Two tweaks to the federal student aid application process -- an earlier start date and use of family income data from the previous year -- appear to have boosted completion rates of applications for federal student aid. A years-long decline in filings of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid was reversed. Every state saw its application numbers go up. And applications by high school seniors were up 9 percent over the previous year as of June 30, traditionally considered the end of the academic year," Inside Higher Ed reports.

"But two papers released Tuesday by the National College Access Network found that those changes didn't fundamentally simplify what's often a painfully complicated process of applying for aid to attend college. And students from the lowest-income school districts -- those most in need of federal aid -- continue to lag peers in wealthier districts in completing the FAFSA.

Those findings suggest the need for additional reforms to streamline the financial aid process and make sure those students are not leaving federal aid on the table. And while the Education Department was able to carry out policy changes last year without congressional authorization, lawmakers will likely need to direct some additional changes called for by proponents of a simpler FAFSA application.

... The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2015 backed the use of tax data already on file as well as more time for students to complete applications. And it recommended sorting student applications based on their financial profile. Applicants whose families do not file tax schedules would have to answer only a handful of questions confirming certain demographic data. The Gates Foundation estimated that two million additional low-income students could get financial support they needed to attend college with those changes. It also argues a simplified application will allow high school counselors and other advisers to spend more time with students who have to answer more questions about their families' finances.

... While the department could act on its own to provide more flexibility for verification requirements, members of Congress would have to weigh in on the length of the financial aid application and questions about family income. That could fit the priorities of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate education committee and has said simplifying financial aid is a key goal of his in reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said the idea behind those recommendations is that low-income people shouldn't have to demonstrate multiple times that they are poor to receive state and federal assistance.

'To the average citizen, it's one federal government,' he said. 'The idea that these federal agencies can't talk to one another, I think, defies logic for most people.'"

NASFAA's "Headlines" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.

 

Publication Date: 10/4/2017

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