Scuttle the One-Size-Fits-All FAFSA, NASFAA Working Group Recommends

Proposed Three-Level Application Process Would Simplify the Federal Financial Aid Application Process, Accurately Target Federal Funds

As the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act nears, simplification of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) remains at the forefront of many draft bills, hearings and conversations.

In a report released today entitled "FAFSA Simplification," the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators' FAFSA Working Group (FWG) offers recommendations to streamline the FAFSA for students and families of all income-levels. NASFAA’s FWG was established in the summer of 2014 shortly after Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Michael Bennett (D-CO) released a proposal to reduce the federal student aid application to just two questions. Concerned about the ramifications of eliminating so many questions from the application, NASFAA’s FWG set out to develop a model that would simultaneously simplify the process and accurately target limited federal funds to those most in need.

“We approached FAFSA simplification not in terms of the numbers of questions students and parents need to complete, but rather how we could ease the burden on students and families while still maintaining our ability to decipher the truly needy from those who may simply appear needy,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “Our proposal utilizes existing federal databases, better application timing, and enhanced technology to make the process easier for everyone, but most especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds where FAFSA complexity represents a real barrier to college.”

Among other recommendations, NASFAA’s FWG suggests a tiered application that offers applicants a customized set of questions, rather than sticking with a “one- size- fits- all approach. The tiered application would identify applicants who – according to their existing means-tested benefits and tax filing status – have low presumed financial resources. It would present them with the bare minimum number of FAFSA questions as opposed to making them read through several other questions that may not apply to their circumstances. Families with more complex financial circumstances would have a more complicated federal application, but utilizing better timing and better technology, those families could import the large majority of their application information directly from their tax return.

NASFAA’s FWG provided four recommendations to help streamline the federal student aid application process:

  • Use prior-prior year income data to determine student aid eligibility;
  • Expand the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to include all line items of the 1040 and W2 information;
  • Institute a three-level application process where, after answering demographic and dependency status questions, applicants would be steered down one of three paths based on their responses to screening questions; and
  • Revise the result of the Federal Methodology to an index that ranks applicants according to their financial strength, rather than an expected financial contribution.

NASFAA will begin work to model this proposal and will make any necessary modifications to ensure the proposed pathways are in the best interest of students and families.

To request an interview with a NASFAA spokesperson, please email or call (202) 785-6959.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents more than 20,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every ten 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

Publication Date: 7/30/2015

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