Lawmakers push to simplify federal financial aid process for college students

WASHINGTON, D.C. — There is a push to fix the federal financial aid process for college students which lawmakers say is too complicated to navigate, leaving many people to miss out on financial help.

More than 13 million college students rely on financial aid every year and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

“This is a form that is especially difficult for students who are homeless, living in foster care, who are living with grandparents,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee).

Lawmakers from both parties are pushing to reform the system.

“The FAFSA must be a tool that expands access to higher education, not a barrier that prevents qualified students from getting the financial aid they need to go to college,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington).

Education experts testified before Congress pushing for a shorter form with fewer questions.

Bipartisan legislation proposes changing the 108-question form to 33 questions instead.

“For many families, filling out a FAFSA is more complicated than filling out an income tax form and it’s something that they have less experience with,” said Dr. Judith Scott-Clayton, Associate Professor of Economics at Columbia University.

Witnesses called for changes to the formula to determine who is eligible for aid and how much they can get.

“It should reflect the financial situation of most college students today who are not going full-time and are financially dependent on their parents after immediately leaving high school,” said Dr. Bridget Terry Long, Dean and Saris Professor of Education and Economics at Harvard Graduate School of Education. “We have working adults, parents, and veterans who are not served as well.”

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Lawmakers and educators said the coronavirus pandemic highlights the need to make sure students are getting financial help, especially as enrollment for lower-income students is dropping.

“Many low economic students who would benefit from college long term, are putting it off altogether,” said Alexander.