Two U.S. senators proposed to shorten and simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form “to the size of a postcard” earlier this month.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-CO) called for a change to the FAFSA in order to remove the complications that stand in the way of some students going to college.
“The Fafsa has 10 pages of detailed questions, explained by 72 pages of instructions, to complete an application that could be just two questions,” Bennet and Alexander said in a New York Times article.
But the idea of creating a simpler FAFSA application actually came from the work conducted by two college professors.
Susan Dynarski, an education professor at the University of Michigan, and Judith Scott-Clayton, an assistant professor of economics and education at Columbia University, addressed the issue of an overcomplicated application process in their paper “College Grants on a Postcard: A Proposal for Simple and Predictable Federal Student Aid.”
According to the paper, the researchers address the lack of simplicity and certainty and the delay in learning about eligibility for funds as what leads to fewer students applying for aid through FAFSA.
“Professors Dynarski and Scott-Clayton estimate that eliminating the current application form would save students’ families almost 100 million hours a year — equivalent of nearly 50,000 full-time jobs,” Bennett and Alexander said in the article.
Michael Kofoed, a Ph.D. student in economics, said the the length of time needed to complete the FAFSA form prevents applicants from finishing it.
“It acts as a deterrent for otherwise eligible students to deter them from actually applying for the federal aid that they need.” he said. “A form that is about three times to four times longer than your taxes the federal government assumes should only take about twenty minutes to complete.”
This deterrent can lead to substantial differences in financial aid, Kofoed said.
In his dissertation, Kofoed said he found the average total financial aid gap between applicants and non-applicants was approximately $9,741. Over four years, there is a difference of more than $36,000 between applicants and non-applicants, he said.
David Mustard, an associate professor of economics in UGA’s Terry College of Business, said for these numbers to change, something has to change to make FAFSA easier to complete.
“You can simplify the FAFSA and not lose very much at all,” he said.
In Dynarski and Scott-Clayton’s paper, they said if roughly 90 percent of the questions used in aid calculation were removed there would be little change in distribution of the Pell grant.
The goal of this proposal is to get money in the hands of college students with less difficulty, Kofoed said.
“We can get people educated, then bump them up to a higher tax bracket and tax the money back from them eventually,” he said.
Mustard said simplifying the process of applying for financial aid affords more students access to aid.
This process turn will boost college enrollment and allow those who would normally not be able to go to college attend college, Mustard said.
But a recent error in the online application resulted in students potentially losing their financial aid, according to a Chronicle for Higher Education article.
The error resulted in a wrongly placed decimal point, where an annual income of $22,852.19 can be converted to an income of $2,285,219, according to the article. “It’s a serious problem,” Jeff Baker, chief policy liaison Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid, said in the article.
Baker also said the error has affected thousands of borrowers, and it will affect even more during the application process for the upcoming school year.