New Proposals to Simplify FAFSA

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced this week an overhaul of how the department distributes financial aid, collects loan payments, and communicates with its more than 42 million borrowers, according to an agency press release. One major change: college students, for the first time, will be able to apply for federal financial aid using a mobile app.

"There is no continuity of experience for borrowers," DeVos said during her keynote speech at the Federal Student Aid Training Conference for Financial Aid Professionals, in Orlando. "A student may begin the aid process through at least three different portals," she continued, "Then, if the student is eligible and a loan is secured, that same student will now be passed off to begin working with his or her school's financial-aid office."

Sec. DeVos said the app would be a more "consumer friendly" ecosystem for students, and meet them where they are, reported The Chronicle of Higher Education. "The goal is a customer experience that will rival Amazon or Apple’s Genius Bar," she said, "one that better serves students and taxpayers."

According to a department spokesperson, the agency hopes to launch the app by next spring, but the web version of the application would still be available to those who need it.

The mobile technology push reflects a broader conversation among both lawmakers and the administration seeking to simplify the overall aid application process, Inside Higher Ed reported. While the department views the mobile app as a first step toward a smoother aid application process, actually reducing the length of the application—which includes roughly 130 questions and can be an impediment for students with limited access to family financial records—will require action from Congress.

The Senate education committee held a hearing on Tuesday to discuss proposals to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the panel, has previously proposed ideas including a FAFSA questionnaire the size of a postcard.

"We've heard over and over again from parents, students and financial aid officials how difficult it is the first time," Alexander said of the application. "This complexity frustrates the goal of the Pell Grant, which is to help low-income students attend college, because it discourages them from applying for aid."

In moving to simplify the form, there are some flashpoints around whether colleges and states will have enough information to evaluate students for institutional and state aid if the number of questions on the FAFSA is significantly reduced. Additionally, some aid advocates worry that streamlining or simplifying the aid programs could result in the elimination of campus-based aid programs.

Just ahead of the Senate panel's discussion on the issue, Democrats on the House education committee filed their own bill to simplify the FAFSA form. The Simple FAFSA Act of 2017 (H.R. 4416 (115)), introduced by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), would create three pathways based on the complexity of a student's finances. It aims increase support for working students, streamline the financial aid process, and expand access to more low-income students. More specifically, the bill would require the FAFSA to be filed only one time, provide the FAFSA in multiple languages, and create a standardized financial aid award letter, among other things.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Reps. Susan Davis (D-CA), Ami Bera (D-CA), and Delegate Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands).


Related Links

U.S. Education Department Press Release

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Inside Higher Ed

U.S. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester's Press Release