FAFSA not necessary, say financial aid experts

The 2013-14 FAFSA form is ten pages long and has 64 pages of instructions. SHFWire photo by Nick Prete
The 2013-14 FAFSA form is ten pages long and has 64 pages of instructions. SHFWire photo by Nick Prete

WASHINGTON – The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is not necessary, financial aid experts told senators at a hearing about how to make applying for federal aid a friendlier and easier process.

“Do we even need a FAFSA form? Do you think? Could we get rid of it all together?” Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., asked. Before becoming senator, Bennet was superintendent of the Denver Public Schools.

“Absolutely,” Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network, said.

“Is that the view of everyone on the panel?”

From the four witnesses came a resounding, “Yes.”

In addition to Cook, Bridget Long, academic dean at the Harvard Graduate school of education;  Judith Scoot-Clayton, assistant professor of economics and education at Columbia University; and Kristin Conklin, of HCM Strategists, testified Wednesday, about the state of federal student aid in the U.S.

The members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee asked the witnesses about how to simplify the process of applying for federal aid.

“If you simplify this process, a lot more students will go to college,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said.

The hearing was part of a series examining critical issues in post-secondary education. These issues will be taken into consideration when the Senate has to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965.

The law was amended for the ninth time in 2008, with the Higher Education Opportunity Act, and will be up for renewal again in 2014.

FAFSA is a 10-page form with 64 pages of instructions that all students requesting federal financial aid must  fill out. The form gathers tax and income metrics to determine a student’s estimated family assets and how much financial aid the student needs.

A simplified questionnaire would only focus on two main metrics, family income and size.

The committee also discussed streamlining the loan process, how to better allocate federal funding and the impact of changes on non-traditional college students.

Reach reporter Nick Prete at nick.prete@shns.com or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.

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