NASFAA Data, Report Takes Center Stage At Senate HELP Hearing

By Katy Hopkins, Communications Staff 

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) framed the second hearing ahead of reauthorization of the Higher Education Act around consumer disclosure and administrative burden data from NASFAA and its members.

The ranking chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held up a 900-page binder, compiled with the help of a NASFAA member institution, that included just one year’s required disclosures. He also cited the “dizzying variety of ways the information must be sent to students,” as noted in NASFAA’s consumer disclosures report from last year. 

“The burden of getting this information to students falls on most cases to financial aid offices, which takes away time and money from other important activities like counseling students about loans,” Alexander said.

He also noted that 90 percent of financial aid administrators report that “many requirements could be eliminated or modified or improved, and that they’re among the most burdensome parts of higher education regulation.” 

Unfortunately, the reporting requirements are not only burdensome; they’re of dubious benefit to students.

“The president of [NASFAA] suggested that such an overwhelming amount of information -- students will have a hard time making good use of,” Alexander added. 

In the hearing, “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: The Role of Consumer Information in College Choice,” senators heard about data students need to make smart decisions from four witnesses: 

  • Mark Schneider, Ph.D., Vice President and Institute Fellow, American Institutes for Research, and President, College Measures;
  • Deborah Santiago, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President for Policy, Excelencia in Education;
  • Stacy Lightfoot, Vice President of College & Career Success Initiatives, Public Education Foundation; and 
  • Taleah Mitchell, a graduate of Seattle Central College.

“The lack of clear and consistent consumer data can make it difficult for students and families to navigate college options,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) acknowledged.

One way to get better information to students and parents is to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), witness Lightfoot noted. A move to prior-prior year income information would be “life changing” if colleges could get cost information to students earlier, giving them more time to find ways to fill any gaps in their aid and college costs, she said. 

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) also weighed in on two delivery modes of financial aid information, advocating for a continued focus on net price calculators (including their prominent placements online) and a universal financial aid award letter, both topics on which he has introduced legislation.

Witness Schneider said that while the federal government collects a lot of data, effective dissemination might be better left to other parties. Entities such as state governments, companies, and nonprofits should be able to experiment with modes of dissemination, he added.  

Student witness Mitchell suggested including information in a centralized portal – perhaps a website or an app – for students to access, and reminded the panel of the power of federal financial aid, which she said brought her up from “less than desirable circumstances.” 

“Without the financial aid that was afforded to me, I never would have been able to go into any type of higher education institution,” she said. Funding including the Pell Grant “gave me the reassurance that I would not only be able to do this, but to complete this.” 

The committee’s next hearing on Higher Education Act reauthorization is scheduled for May 20. Stay tuned to Today’s News for coverage.

 

Publication Date: 5/7/2015


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