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Proposed changes to the FAFSA may encourage college enrollment


Thursday, June 19, 2014

A recent op-ed in The New York Times focused on a topic that many high school and college students are likely familiar with: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Completion of this lengthy form is a necessity for anyone interested in student financial aid. In fact, more than 20 million individuals are expected to complete it this year, according to the news source. That's no easy feat, as the FAFSA is comprised of 10 pages of questions and dozens more of instructions, which can be intimidating for students and their families.

A push for easier applications
The op-ed, written by U.S. senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), noted that the Institute for College Access and Success found that nearly 2 million Pell Grant–eligible students did not complete the FAFSA during the 2007–08 academic year. Pell Grants, which are awarded to low-income individuals, offer significant financial assistance to these students, but a large portion of the individuals who would receive the greatest benefits from the awards miss out due to the complexity of the FAFSA.

Alexander and Bennet outlined their plan for a brand new FAFSA, which would be comprised of just two questions. According to the source, eliminating 90 percent of the FAFSA's questions would save students and their families nearly 100 million hours in a single year while only changing the average Pell Grant award by $54 per year.

They also advocate for beginning the financial aid process earlier. Informing students as to their expected aid as early as their junior year of high school would give them time to apply for scholarships or adjust their college search according to their need.

Preliminary studies support the movement
Plenty of research emphasizes the idea that a simpler FAFSA would still enable the government to award aid, all while making the application process easier for families. According to a National Bureau of Economic Research study, people who receive assistance that simplifies the FAFSA process were more likely to submit the application, enroll in college and earn more college financial aid than those who were left on their own.

"Making college aid applications almost effortless to complete had an extremely powerful impact on the number of low-income students who made it to college," said Philip Oreopoulos, one of the leaders of the study. "For high school seniors, just helping their parents fill out the financial aid form and apply increased college enrollment rates by 30 percent."

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