A recent press release from the Obama administration shares details on the President’s plans to simplify the process for students applying for federal financial aid.
As it stands now, students seeking aid must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form in order to determine their eligibility. Unfortunately, the form requires some applicants to answer over 100 questions, a hassle that the Obama administration hopes to avoid with their amendment. According to the disclosure required by the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, the 2013-2014 version of the FAFSA form takes approximately three hours to complete.
The press release explains plans to eliminate "27 of the most burdensome and difficult-to-verify questions" from the FAFSA form, with the hope that such a change would expedite the application process. The Obama administration claims that some of the questions included in the current FAFSA are overly arduous, including inquiries about assets that penalize savings, untaxed veterans benefits, child support and clergy pay.
A shorter and simpler form should save time and effort spent on answering inconsequential questions. The Obama administration makes the claim that a user-friendly form might even boost the number of students who apply for aid and pursue a college degree.
According to the White House, more than one million students who could be eligible for Pell Grants may never see them, due to the frustration that often comes with filling out the FAFSA in its current form.
Of course, the changes the President has proposed will not do away with a FAFSA completely. The form will still ask many important questions needed to verify eligibility for aid, such as the student's address, parents' income, and any schools they may be considering.
President Obama's suggestion is not the only option currently being explored. Senators Lamar Alexander (R) and Michael Bennet (D) have suggested an even simpler version of the form. Under their plan, the FAFSA would only ask students to answer two questions, the size of their family and their household gross income from two years prior.
Although the shortened FAFSA being proposed by the senators sounds much simpler, Senator Bennet did acknowledge that the strategy could be considered aggressive. However, it is only a suggestion. Senators Bennet and Alexander seem aware that additional questions might be needed to flesh out the FAFSA form and dig a little deeper into potential student’s financial history.
Another stipulation in the Senators’ proposal could provide important information without adding additional questions to the FAFSA. Since many of the current questions can be derived from tax returns, applicants would be required to submit their tax forms in addition to the FAFSA application in order to be considered for aid. Since tax forms are a treasure trove of financial data, the hope is that this strategy would offer up the required data while also saving students time and energy.
Unfortunately, no one can celebrate a shorter FAFSA form quite yet. Although an extremely short FAFSA form would be celebrated by parents and students alike, the bill would have to make it through the Senate Education Committee before being considered by the Senate as a whole.
Regardless of what ends up happening to the FAFSA form, many Americans agree that the current form is lengthy and burdensome to those who want to apply for financial aid. Simplifying this form would likely result in more applications for federal financial aid and, in turn, more financial aid being awarded to students in need.