NASFAA member Michael Bennett testified before the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training Tuesday, stressing the importance of FAFSA simplification and a move to using prior-prior year (PPY) tax income, among other financial aid topics.
Bennett, the associate vice president of student financial services at St. Petersburg College, was joined by fellow panelists Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University, Christine M. Keller of the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities, and David A. Bergeron, vice president at the Center for American Progress. All panelists discussed ideas for change during the hearing, titled “Strengthening America’s Higher Education System.”
“When we talk about the need to simplify the [FAFSA] application process, we are not simply talking about the number of questions on the FAFSA, but the efficiency and experience of the entire application process,” Bennett said. “Most of us would agree that 110 questions is excessive.”
But the best solution is not to drastically cut the form down to two questions, Bennett told the Representatives. Instead, using PPY tax data and resources such as the IRS data retrieval tool would streamline the process while preserving metrics financial aid administrators need to gauge financial need.
“We certainly hear this complaint from absolutely everybody, and shame on us if we can’t do something to fix that,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) agreed.
Bennett walked the lawmakers through some of the benefits of PPY, including easier and earlier FAFSA filing, a reduction in the need for verification, and earlier notification of financial aid awards with more time for counseling.
“The Secretary of Education already has the authority to adjust the year of tax data used to determine federal eligibility,” Bennett noted. “In this reauthorization, we want to see that ‘may’ turn into a ‘must.’”
Representative Susan Davis (D-CA) asked Bennett and his fellow panelists whether there seems to be any political opposition preventing from PPY’s implementation. Though there may be some concerns about Pell Grant program costs and loan program cost changes, “I think there’s tremendous unanimity of opinion that we need to be moving in that direction,” Bergeron said.
There also seemed to be agreement at the hearing for the need for change within higher education.
“I would contend that higher education is the only institution in this country that has not changed in 150 years,” Foxx said.
With the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act underway but far from complete, this hearing was the first effort by the House in the 114th Congress to move the effort forward. NASFAA has submitted a series of reauthorization recommendations to Congress and continued to inform the process through the work of many member task forces. All of NASFAA’s coverage of and work related to HEA reauthorization can be found at www.nasfaa.org/reauth.
Publication Date: 3/18/2015