Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) today introduced the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2019, a bill that would create a streamlined financial aid application process, while still giving schools, states, and scholarship providers enough information to offer financial aid to today’s diverse college-going population. Under this proposal, all students would be able to determine their Pell Grant eligibility through Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and household size.
For far too long, thousands of students who have every intention of attending college never enroll, or end up leaving millions of financial aid dollars on the table — including $2.3 billion in Pell Grant dollars annually — in large part due to the overly complex nature of applying for and receiving federal financial aid. While we have made significant progress toward simplifying the process in recent years — through the addition of skip logic to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and allowing some income data to be imported via the Internal Revenue Service’s Data Retrieval Tool, for example — we can do better.
The FAFSA Simplification Act would significantly reduce the number of questions on the FAFSA — including irrelevant and unnecessary questions, such as the Selective Service and drug offense-related questions — and require students to only answer questions based on their family income.
“Taking into account feedback from financial aid professionals nationwide, this bill takes a commonsense approach to shorten the FAFSA application to an extent that would not deprive institutions of crucial information needed to appropriately disburse billions of dollars of financial aid to eligible students,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “In short, this bill makes the process of applying for student aid much easier for all students, but the biggest positive impact will be for our nation’s neediest students.”
“NCAN has long advocated for a streamlined FAFSA to lessen one of the barriers faced by many first-generation students going to college. By combining this simpler FAFSA with a Pell Grant look-up table, we can show students, early in their decision-making process, that there is money to help them complete college,” said NCAN Executive Director Kim Cook. “We thank Senators Alexander and Jones for championing this issue and the students we serve.”
A few NASFAA and NCAN members also weighed in on the bill and what it would mean for students:
“Legislation that makes the process for accessing financial aid simpler for our students and families is a win,” said Brenda Hicks, director of financial aid at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. “Condensing eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant to a look-up table places pivotal information directly in students’ hands in a concise and accessible way. This kind of knowledge could make the difference between a student who feels a college education is out of reach financially and a student who suddenly has hope for their future.”
“One of the biggest reasons students and families don’t complete the FAFSA is that they don’t think they will be eligible for any financial aid. This is true even for Pell-eligible families,” said Kristina Scott, executive director of Alabama Possible. “With the FAFSA Simplification Act implementation of simple, clear Pell Grant look up tables, we will be able to talk with students beginning in middle school about what aid for which they should be eligible and how to access it by completing a shorter, simplified FAFSA. These two changes can shift the conversation about postsecondary education from ‘if’ to ‘when’ for low-income and first-generation college-going students and their families.”
“FAFSA simplification is an important step in the right direction to make the financial aid process more transparent for students and their families,” said Lori Vedder, director of the office of financial aid at the University of Michigan–Flint. “Allowing our neediest students to avoid answering unnecessary questions when applying for financial aid would remove barriers that often keep many students from matriculating. Having an earlier and upfront indication of their eligibility to receive crucial need-based aid, such as the federal Pell Grant, will help these students realize they have the ability to attend and afford college.”
“Completing the FAFSA, for as long as I can remember, is a daunting process — one that my mother needed help with over 20 years ago for my sister and me,” shared Stacy Lightfoot, vice president of college and career success at the Public Education Foundation of Chattanooga-Hamilton County. “Now, the FAFSA is even more complex for families, especially those from underserved backgrounds, who get lost answering over 100 questions on the form. Senator Alexander’s proposal to simplify the FAFSA is long overdue and has been thoughtfully created to ensure better access to college by eliminating unnecessary and irrelevant questions. The new bill takes the most intimidating aspect of the college process away for students.”
NASFAA and NCAN look forward to working with lawmakers as this bill moves through the legislative process. To request an interview with a NASFAA spokesperson, please email Director of Communications Erin Powers or call (202) 785-6959. To request an interview with an NCAN spokesperson, please email Communications Manager Kelly Mae Ross or call (202) 347-4848 x210.
The mission of the National College Access Network is to build, strengthen, and empower communities and stakeholders to close equity gaps in postsecondary attainment for all students. Based in Washington, D.C., NCAN is a nonprofit membership organization serving over 500 members that touch the lives of more than 2 million students each year. Our members include college access programs, school districts, institutions of higher education, and other nonprofits that are committed to the vision that all students have an equitable opportunity to achieve social and economic mobility through higher education. For more information, please visit www.collegeaccess.org.
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents more than 28,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every 10 undergraduates in the United States. Based in Washington, D.C., NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aid legislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators. For more information, visit www.nasfaa.org.
Publication Date: 10/22/2019