Opinion: Paying for College Shouldn't Be This Complicated

"Occasionally the solution to an underachieving government program is refreshingly mundane. So it is that a simpler federal form may be all that separates millions of poor students in the U.S. from a chance to get help paying for college," Bloomberg View writes.

"In the 2015-2016 school year, roughly 2 million high school seniors -- some 60 percent of the total -- completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or Fafsa. Of those who don't fill out the Fafsa, roughly half would have been eligible for federal Pell grants, which don't have to be repaid. The government awards Pell grants based on family need, up to an annual maximum of $5,920.

In part because many eligible students did not complete the Fafsa, an estimated $2.3 billion in Pell grant money is going unclaimed. Because the funds appropriated by Congress last year exceeded the amount handed out, the Pell grant program is running an $8.5 billion surplus.

... Some modest steps would help. At least 30 questions on the Fafsa generate a zero response from 99 percent of applicants -- a strong argument that those questions are unnecessary and can be eliminated. The application should also allow students whose families receive means-tested federal benefits -- food stamps, for example -- to bypass the requirement that they provide additional financial information. Most students from households poor enough to qualify for federal public assistance also meet the threshold to receive federal student aid. They shouldn't be required to prove it twice.

If changes to the Fafsa affect the amount of aid that will be disbursed, however, Congress must approve them. That complicates the process, but it shouldn't forestall it. A shorter, simplified application would increase Pell grant spending by an estimated $1.4 billion, cutting the annual amount currently left on the table by more than half and keeping the program in surplus."

NASFAA's "Headlines" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.

 

Publication Date: 11/9/2017

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