As the student loan crisis rages on, billions in financial aid remain on the table because the process for applying is too complicated.
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Just the FAQ, USA TODAY
For most families, paying for college means relying on some form of financial assistance. Yet last year, 43% of high school students failed to submit the one form required for almost all types of student aid: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). These students missed a magnificent $ 24 billion in money for college.
With more jobs requiring education beyond high school and the ever increasing cost of college and crippling debt, this financial aid is needed more than ever.
Believe it or not, the biggest barrier to financial aid is the application itself. It is too difficult to understand and is not a useful college planning tool. A recent Report Hechinger Report ranked FAFSA # 1 among “most complex and convoluted forms of higher education.” Students and families must navigate a multitude of confusing and redundant questions and submit information that is difficult for many to obtain. And after all this hard work, students still don’t get enough information to plan and budget. The complexity of the form not only prevents families from getting the support they need – it has also been shown to prevent students who are well prepared for college from enrolling.
Leave money on the table
In recent years, FAFSA application rates have been in decline – especially among low-income students and mature students who may need help the most.
The good news is bipartisanship FAFSA simplification law championed by retired Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., would not only streamline the application process, but also become a valuable tool in helping students and parents afford higher education. In addition, the improvements would help the fastest growing student body – adults looking for additional training to keep their jobs or find a new job.
The Senate FAFSA Simplification Act of 2019 would fundamentally streamline the financial aid application process by using the data students already provide to the IRS and simplifying the formula that determines how much families are entitled to. More specifically, the legislation:
►Reduce the number of questions by 80% to include only the most relevant questions.
►Provide Pell Grant charts that help students and parents determine how much aid they are entitled to.
►Allowing students from households with an annual income of less than $ 34,000 to automatically qualify for a full Pell scholarship.
►With parental consent, automate the secure sharing of IRS data with the Department of Education, so students don’t have to re-enter tax information, adding time and risk of unintentional errors.
Changes will have real results
These simple changes will make all the difference. Students who have tested a prototype of a simplified FAFSA completed the request 39% faster with 56% fewer errors. Plus, the Grant Eligibility Tables provide valuable and timely information to help students shop for the college that meets their life and career goals. Finding the right fit and avoiding unnecessary debt is increasingly important to students.
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Congress has a tremendous opportunity to pass this law to help more Americans take the first step to unlock billions in federal financial assistance, including grants, loans, and work-study assistance, as well as aid. states and many colleges.
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We owe it to students as well as the nation’s future prosperity and talent to have a user-friendly app and valuable tool for students to access affordable college. This bill enjoys broad bipartisan support and is a common-sense measure to strengthen our common future.
Kim Cook is Executive Director of the National College Access Network. Kristin Hultquist is a founding partner of HCM Strategists LLC. Bridget Terry Long is Dean and Saris Professor of Education and Economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Judith Scott-Clayton is Associate Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Follow them on Twitter: @NCANCook, @kristinHCM and @jscottclayton