Obama Administration To Simplify Complex College Aid Application

By Lindsey Ellerson

Jun 24, 2009 4:18pm

ABC News’ Mary Bruce reports:

In an effort to streamline the college aid application process, the Obama administration announced today its plan to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a horrendously complicated form of over 153 questions. 

“President Obama has challenged the nation to once again have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in his first White House press briefing.  “To do that, we need to make the college-going process easier and more convenient, and to send a clear message to young people as well as adults that college is within their reach.  Simplifying the financial aid process is an important step toward reaching that goal.” 

Experts believe that in its current state, the form undermines a student’s ability to qualify for financial aid – the Education Department estimates there are 1.5 million students who may be eligible for Pell grants but fail to apply. As a candidate, Obama suggested reforming the FAFSA application process as a way to make college more accessible.

Too many students who qualify found applying for student loans was too difficult to understand,” Duncan said. “Too often, they simply got frustrated, and they gave up. The form itself was literally a barrier to entering college. That has to change.”

The Education Department will work with the Treasury in coming months to revamp the financial aid process by modernizing the online application, seeking legislation that will eliminate unnecessary questions, and creating an easy process for students to apply by using tax data already available.

“Next year's applicants should see a 20 percent reduction in the number of questions and a 50 percent [reduction] in the number of Web pages to navigate,” Duncan said.

The changes being proposed are intended to increase college enrollment, particularly among low-income students. According to the Education Department the end result will be a shorter application that requires only the most basic personal information and a few clicks of a mouse.

Some of the reforms are already underway. Since May the Education Department has been providing instant estimates, so students no longer have to wait weeks to hear if they are eligible for loans or Pell Grants. Later this summer applicants can anticipate easier navigation when they use the web-based FAFSA application.

Asked how much all these new enrollments would cost, Duncan said he didn’t “have a firm estimate on that.  But, again, we think that's not a cost.  We think that's an investment. We think the best thing we can do as a country is have more young people going on to college.  So we think this is absolutely the right thing to do.”

–Mary Bruce

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