FAFSA Could Be Cut Down

The Daily Free Press (Boston University)
October 14, 2008

By Jennie Eng

Completing a FAFSA application for student aid may not longer be as tedious and lengthy if Congress approves proposed changes from the Department of Education.

Changes to the FAFSA application would reduce the number of questions on the application from 120 to 27, give students real-time notification of their financial aid eligibility and also show how much aid they can expect to receive sooner.

In 2005, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings created the Commission on the Future of Higher Education. The commission reviewed the FAFSA and found that the length and complexity of the document discouraged many students and their families from filling out the FAFSA form or applying for financial aid.

“It’s probably second to tax forms in terms of giving families around America headaches,” Steven Goodman, an independent college admissions expert, said. “Families pull out their hair out over filling out their forms.”

The current application is six pages long with an additional four pages of instructions and has more than 100 questions.

“It’s red tape like this that keeps 40 percent of college students from even applying for federal aid,” Spellings, who announced the proposed changes this month, said in an Oct. 1 lecture at Harvard University. “That’s nearly 8 million students. And we believe most would have been eligible for assistance.”

Lawmakers may review the Department of Education’s proposed changes the next time Congress meets.

The new FAFSA application would allow students to take more control over their financial situation and “reduce the burden on colleges and universities to verify information or rely on the collection of federal income tax returns,” according to an October Department of Education press release.

Goodman said a simpler form will encourage more people to apply for federal financial aid.

“Simplifying the form will help level the playing field,” Goodman said. “It’s people with fewer resources who are the ones who are discriminated against. People in general who have fewer resources tend to be more put off by the forms.”

Spellings spoke at Charlestown High School and at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at Harvard earlier this month about the need to change FAFSA for students who may be eligible for federal aid, but are discriminated against by the complexity of the current application process.

FinAid.org publisher Mark Kantrowitz said the FAFSA application process is a barrier to low-income students who would otherwise qualify for financial aid.

“It takes at least an hour for a typical family; some questions are a little confusing or require extra effort to answer,” he said. “It’s an intimidating form.”

Kantrowitz said the proposed changes to FAFSA ignore the real goal of providing financial aid to low-income and at-risk students.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect formula,” Kantrowitz said. “You can get as many questions as you can, but you’ll still get some families who get an inappropriate amount of financial aid.”

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