Report urges financial aid update

    Student financial aid administered and paid for by the federal government must be simplified to serve the needs of students, a new report from the Department of Education’s Advisory Committee on Student Financial Aid Assistance argues.

    Titled “The Student Aid Gauntlet,” the report proposes an overhaul of the financial aid process in order to make it more accessible to middle- and low-income students, according to Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts and committee chair Clare Cotton.

    “Congress commissioned the committee to do a one-year study of how the student aid process might be simplified for low-income students to navigate through the … process,” Cotton said.

    The report called on Congress to make 10 changes to simplify federal aid. One of the key proposals is to phase out the paper version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Instead, the report suggested streamlining the financial aid application into a fully integrated system on the Internet.

    The committee found that the current FAFSA application, which includes more than 100 questions, is far too complex, according to its Associate Staff Director Nicole Barry.

    “Basically, the Department of Education has tried to simplify the whole process … but there are still things that can be done,” Barry said. “There are multiple barriers that students face when applying for financial aid. Increasing grant aid is important, but simplification of the process can make student aid more accessible to many more students.”

    Among other changes, the committee suggested making the application shorter.

    “Everyone on the committee was interested in simplifying the process, especially for low-income families,” said UC Riverside Financial Aid Director Sheryl L. Hayes, who contributed to the report. “I think we talked about making the application only a page long.”

    The report also recommended allowing students to apply for financial aid earlier.

    “I suggested that they change the timing of the application process,” Hayes said. “The [idea] is that we should use the previous year’s tax information, and that would allow the students to apply earlier.”

    Some lawmakers on the House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce said they were skeptical about whether the federal government could afford the proposed overhaul.

    “We are interested in finding simpler ways for the financial aid process,” said Alexa Marrero, a spokeswoman for the Republican majority on the committee. “That is why we requested the report. But the report didn’t offer how to pay for the proposals. The overhaul has the potential to be costly. We agree on the central premise, but realistically, in implementing these standards, we want to make the best use of the resources that we have available.”

    Of the 10 proposals, only two require additional funding, and those proposals have the potential of being costly, according to Cotton.

    One of those proposals suggests reducing the “student work penalty,” which reduces the calculated “need” for students if they work while enrolled in school.

    “Under the current financial aid system, if a student works and earns money during college, it could take away from the student’s aid,” Cotton said. “It is regrettable that it has the potential to be costly, but we suggested this proposal can be phased in over the course of several years.”

    A full implementation of the committee’s proposal could cost up to $1.1 billion, according to Barry. However, the report states that portions requiring additional funding could be added over several years.

    “Those two proposals that would expand the system’s funding could be phased in,” Barry said. “But Congress does not have to fully implement those proposals. They could implement two or three parts within the recommendation.”

    The project has received support from the education committee’s ranking member, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), and his colleagues plan to introduce legislation implementing the proposals as soon as possible, according to Miller’s spokesman Tom Kiley.

    “His position is you shouldn’t need H&R Block to apply for financial aid,” Kiley said. “The process is way more complicated than it needs to be. We do expect to introduce legislation in the near future.”

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $210
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $210
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal