FAFSA simplification has become a hot topic on Capitol Hill, and at colleges and universities across the country. With the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, policymakers and higher education thought leaders are beginning to develop ideas for making the federal financial aid application process more streamlined and effective for students and families.
During a session on Monday, three panelists presented proposals for FAFSA simplification.
NASFAA’s Megan McClean Coval described a three-tiered FAFSA application that would direct students or parents down one of three pathways based on their backgrounds. The first path, intended for the neediest applicants, ends the application after one to two questions if the student or parent is a recipient of SNAP or SSI benefits, or if they were not required to file taxes. In the second path, applicants – presumably “simple” tax filers – provide limited income and asset information. But the applicant is taken to the third path if he or she filed a different type of tax return. In that pathway, tax filers with forms or schedules would fill out a form similar to the current FAFSA application.
“We often hear we need to stop requiring poor people to continually prove they’re poor,” Coval said. “We wanted to incorporate this into the FAFSA and ... that for our members was sort of a no-brainer.”
Carrie Warick of the National College Access Network described a FAFSA simplification proposal the organization is currently finalizing. Similar to NASFAA’s proposal, the NCAN plan would direct applicants down one of three pathways. The first pathway would be based on whether the applicant receives means-tested benefits. But rather than limiting it to SNAP and SSI, the NCAN proposal would include the entire list of public means-tested benefits, including things like Medicaid. The middle pathway is intended for families with simple tax situations, while the third is intended for those with more complicated situations. Overall, Warick said students would answer about 30 questions at the most.
Kim Rueben of the Urban Institute presented a proposal from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which in addition to simplifying the application for low-income students, would make the process more automated by finding a way for the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to “talk” to the FAFSA in the sense that certain information that would typically be reported during the verification process would be automatically imported from the IRS.
Publication Date: 7/11/2016