Senate May Simplify FAFSA in Forthcoming HEA Bill

"Simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) would remove a key barrier to college access, particularly for lower-income students, said Nancy McCallin, president of the Colorado Community College System, at a U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing Tuesday," Community College Daily reports.

"Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), who once served as U.S. education secretary, said he aims to include a simplified FAFSA in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), which the committee plans to take up in early 2018.

The overly complex FAFSA – with 102 questions on 10 pages plus 66 pages of instructions – discourages lower-income students from applying for student aid and is the 'single biggest impediment' for students who want to take advantage of the Tennessee Promise, Alexander said.

Alexander added that he is working with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) to reduce the FAFSA form to just 15 to 25 questions by automatically incorporating tax information from the Internal Revenue Service.


Judith Scott-Clayton, an associate professor of economics and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, said when students receive help filling out the FAFSA, enrollment and retention increase by 8 percent.

The complexity of the FAFSA isn’t necessary to predict how much aid students should receive, Scott-Clayton said. Both Pell Grant eligibility and the expected family contribution can be replicated with only a few questions. Basing Pell awards on data the IRS already has would maximize transparency while making the application process much easier, she said.

Students who receive federal benefits from Supplemental Security Income or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program should be automatically eligible for a Pell Grant, proposed Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

For students who file a 1040 tax return, the federal government would already have enough information to determine their eligibility for student aid, Draeger said, while students with more complicated tax returns should have to submit more information."

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Publication Date: 11/30/2017

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