Consensus is forming across a broad range of partners and organizations that we need to fix the federal financial aid process, and we need to do it now. While specific details sometimes vary, we are united by a commitment to fixing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to ensure that more students have access to earning a college degree.
At present, the FAFSA — the application that millions of students fill out to receive federal financial aid — fails our students and their families on three fronts:
- It is complex. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid currently contains more than 100 questions, nearly one-third of which are answered by less than 1% of applicants. The FAFSA also uses terms such as “emancipated minorâ€ that are unfamiliar to many applicants. Additionally, the information produced by the process focuses on what the student is expected to pay rather than the amount of aid they will receive, which is confusing to many.
- It is redundant. Students must assemble and send the same information twice–once to the federal government and then, in many cases, again to the institution or institutions they want to attend. Â Additionally, students are asked to provide tax information that they already provided to the IRS.
- It is poorly timed. Students and their families must provide tax information that is not available until January (or even February) of the year they will attend college. Â This leaves little time to complete aid applications, and then less time to weigh their options once aid decisions are made.
These challenges hit low-income and first-generation students especially hard. Â According to a recent analysis, of the roughly 2 million students eligible for Pell Grants who do not file a FAFSA, more than half would be eligible for the maximum grant. Â Getting even a portion of these students through the aid application process and into college would be a significant step toward increasing postsecondary access and success, all while bolstering our economy.
Fortunately, there are ways to make the aid application process simpler, more transparent, and better timed for students and their families. Â By shortening and streamlining the process, more students will be able to apply to get the aid they need, which in turn will improve their chances of starting and completing a degree or credential.
Fixing the FAFSA will increase the number of students seeking credentials. It also will improve the odds of students completing certificate and degree programs and provide students better information and more time to prepare for and make decisions about where and how to attend college.Â It will also free up the time for counselors and aid administrators to advise students instead of filling out needlessly long forms and re-verifying tax information.
Simplifying the aid application process is just one step toward increasing access and success for low-income and first-generation students. But it is an important step.