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FAFSA Form To Be Simplified

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
June 24, 2009

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is expected to announce plans today to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a notoriously complex form with over 100 questions which students must complete to apply for federal financial assistance for higher education.

"We have to educate our way to a better economy," explained Duncan in a statement yesterday which was published in USA Today. "Young people and adult learners deserve the chance to go to college and to know the money they need is available."

The new FAFSA will have about 20 percent less questions to avoid redundancies. The New York Times notes, for example, that beginning this January, students who are at least 24 or married will automatically be able to skip 11 questions about their parents' financial information. Similarly, low-income students will be able to skip questions about their assets, which are not used to determine their eligibility.

Duncan also plans to create a process for families whereby families can simply click on their online application to automatically fill in information already filed with the Internal Revenue Service as part of their tax returns.

"Confusing paperwork shouldn't stand between qualified students and a college degree," noted Rep. George Miller of California, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, who was quoted in the Times. "Secretary Duncan has put forth common-sense proposals for streamlining the FAFSA."

The move to simplify the form is the latest effort to encourage more students to apply for federal financial aid. Authorities estimate that as many as 1.5 million students who are eligible for federal Pell Grants do not apply because they are apprehensive about filling out such a lengthy and complicated form. Other studies suggest that many families who are eligible for federal aid instead apply for more expensive private loans, simply to avoid completing the FAFSA. Many families have even hired private consultants to assist in filling out the form.

A more simplified FAFSA "will be a welcome relief to students and families," said Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, president of Kalamazoo College in Michigan, who was quoted in USA Today, "and it comes at a time many are very worried about the ability to pay for college."

But others argue that the proposals don't go far enough to simplify the process. "The whole form should be able to fit on the back of a postcard," said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, who was quoted in the Times. "And they need to simplify not just the form but the formula for determining aid."

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