Financial Aid

What’s Next for Simplifying the FAFSA?

Kathryn Knight Randolph

July 26, 2017

What’s Next for Simplifying the FAFSA?
Everyone wants to simplify the FAFSA -- what could be next?
Last year, a new bill was proposed by Congressional Democrats that sought to further simplify the process surrounding the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA. The bill – had it been passed – would have allowed students and their families to file the FAFSA just once during their college career in order to qualify for financial aid. Though the bill did not pass, it did inspire some change on both sides of the aisle. However, wanting change is not the same as enacting change. As always, it’s hard to agree on what should be done to simplify the FAFSA. So what are the options on the table now? TIME highlights them:
1. Different “pathways” through the FAFSA. There is no “one-size-fits-all” on the FAFSA; that’s why there are 130 questions. Each question hopes to gauge a family’s financial circumstances, and some families require more questions than others. However, according to TIME, only 1 to 2% of families require all 130 questions. That’s why there are groups that are advocating for a smarter online FAFSA. Rather than fill out all 130 questions, families would only be required to fill out the questions that applied to them. TIME estimates that based on a few factors, most families would only have to answer 30 – 40 questions – versus 130.
2. The postcard approach. Researchers from Columbia University, economist Judith Scott-Clayton, and University of Michigan, economics professor Susan Dynarski, told TIME that expected family contribution is based on three things: adjusted gross income, family size and number of family members in college at the same time. With that, students only “need” to answer three questions, which could easily fit onto a postcard. Two years ago, two senators – a Republican and a Democrat – proposed that idea. Though it didn’t get far in Congress, one of the senators plans to put it at the top of his priority list this year.
3. File it once – forever. According to an interview in TIME with Brett Benner, the director of enrollment management at the University of Tampa, only 6% of their students actually make changes to their FAFSA throughout college. So why not file the FAFSA once – and then refile only if needed? That’s the final solution on the plate for making the FAFSA simpler and more effective, which is actually vital to not only helping students apply to college but stay in college too. TIME states that “research has found that students who file a Free Application for Federal Financial Aid or (FAFSA) are more likely to enroll and stay in college. But more than half of high school seniors don't fill out a FAFSA by the time they graduate, according to federal education statistics.” A simplified FAFSA will go a long way toward guaranteeing greater college success for students – and we’ll be the first to update you as changes are made.

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