In-Depth: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced this bill to make it easier for students and their families to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA):
“Nearly 20 million students fill out the FAFSA every year and we have heard over and over that the 108-question form is difficult to complete and its complexity discourages students from applying. There is a consensus on how to make it easier for these students to apply for federal aid… Over and over again… I have been asked, if I have already given my tax information to the federal government, why do I have to give it again for the FAFSA? My answer is that you shouldn’t have to. Once is enough. My central focus will be to make it simpler and easier for students to apply for federal aid and to pay their loans back and easier for college administrators to cut through the jungle of bureaucratic red tape.”
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) supports this bill. Its president, Justin Draeger, calls this bill a “common-sense” solution that benefits students and families:
“The FAFSA Act not only makes the application process easier for students, but does so while preserving the integrity of the student aid programs. These are the sort of common-sense, bipartisan solutions students and families need from Washington, D.C., and we applaud these Senators for their commitment to removing barriers to a postsecondary education. The financial aid community urges swift action on this bill so that work can begin to reduce the application and data verification burden that continues to overwhelm students and institutions."
NASFAA adds that this bill improves data-sharing securing, reduces applicant errors, and reduces improper payments:
“In addition to providing a more streamlined, less burdensome process for students and families, the bill would create a more secure data-sharing experience, reduce applicant errors in reported income, and reduce improper payments. The bill also aims to improve cost estimates and forecasting of the federal student aid programs by including research, oversight and analysis as an allowable use of shared IRS information.”
While it hasn’t taken a position on this specific bill, Young Invincibles supports FAFSA simplification as a way to make the financial aid process easier and less daunting:
“[R]educing student debt levels can start with merely simplifying the financial aid application system. Many students who otherwise would be eligible, never receive aid. The During the 2011-2012 school year, 17 percent of Pell-eligible African-Americans and 10 percent of Pell-eligible Latinx individuals did not fill out the FAFSA because they thought they were ineligible for aid. A prime suspect is the complex process. The current FAFSA has over 100 questions and requires significant financial information from a student’s family, making filling it out highly confusing. That confusion leads to about a quarter of online forms being abandoned, and students missing out on billions of dollars in aid. There has been some progress toward improving the experience by the Department of Education: last year 23 business and student groups wrote the committee urging the codification of the usage of prior-prior year tax information, the IRS’ data retrieval tool, and the expanded application period. [Congress] should adopt those recommendations and move forward on further simplification reforms like letting low-income families only file the FAFSA once, or not have to file if they are means-tested program recipients, and creating a shorter, quicker pathways for all other applicants.”
This bill has the support of three cosponsors, including two Democrats and one Republican. It also has the support of the National College Access Network, in addition to the organizations quoted above.
Of Note: Research shows that students who file a Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) are 72 percent more likely than non-FAFSA filers to enroll, and stay, in college. However, according to federal education statistics, over half of high school seniors don’t fill out a FAFSA by the time they graduate. Of the students that don’t file FAFSA, many come from lower-income families, and would’ve qualified for Pell Grants that don’t have to be repaid.
Currently, the IRC doesn’t allow the IRS to share taxpayer data with the Education Department. Instead, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) works around this lack of data-sharing authority by having FAFSA applicants obtain their own tax information from the IRS, and then import that information into the FAFSA.
Under this bill, information would come directly from the IRS. This would reduce verification burden, since applicants who currently fall into categories that are ineligible to use the DRT would be eligible to have their tax data shared directed between the IRS and Education Department. This bill should also largely do away with the verification of non-filing requirement (VONF), since it includes filing status as one of the shared IRS information elements.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / designer491)