As part of an effort to make higher education affordable to a wider range of students, the Obama administration has moved to substantially shorten the government’s financial aid application.
When it debuts in January 2010, the overhauled Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, will have fewer questions organized more logically. Student Financial Services administrators and Yale students said the changes will help streamline the often cumbersome financial aid process.
In particular, questions pertaining to tax data will be eliminated by transferring data already available in the Internal Revenue Service database. The Obama administration also plans to introduce legislation in Congress that would eliminate questions about a family’s finances that have little bearing on aid awards and can be difficult to answer, the Department of Education said in a statement.
Changes to the FAFSA have been received with open arms by Yale’s financial aid office, Student Financial Services Director Caesar Storlazzi said.
“We put a lot of burdens on people, and anything we can do to simplify it would do a lot of good,” Storlazzi said.
The office relies primarily on the College Scholarship Search Profile form in its calculation of aid awards, Storlazzi said, while the FAFSA serves primarily as a tool to help ensure that students receive the federal aid to which they are entitled. The office also requires Yale College students applying for aid to complete a Yale-specific form as the final piece of their aid application.
Because FAFSA serves as only one of three parts of the financial aid application, Storlazzi said the changes to FAFSA should not impact the amounts of student financial aid awards.
Of 10 students interviewed, all of whom have experience with the FAFSA, nine agreed that shortening the form will be a positive change, provided that the questions eliminated hold no bearing on aid awards.
“It sounds like a win-win situation if they’re eliminating redundancy,” Josh Pan ’12 said.
Still, two students expressed concern about which questions would be eliminated and if that would affect how much aid they receive, adding that complaints about length are overblown.
But Storlazzi said statistical studies have indicated that shortening the FAFSA will help both families and students obtain the aid they need without adding undue stress.
The changes to the FAFSA come several years after extensive changes to the exhaustive CSS Profile, Storlazzi said. The new FAFSA will, like the CSS Profile, serve as a smart form that automatically adjusts what questions to ask based on basic information the applicant provides in the beginning.
“It’s great that the federal government has come up with the same idea to simplify the form,” Storlazzi said. “The idea is to increase access to college study, not to make the application process to financial aid an onerous process.”
The legislative changes to the FAFSA will come as part of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (H.R. 3221), which also includes provisions to expand the maximum annual Pell Grant scholarship and keep interest rates on federal need-based student loans low, among other changes. H.R. 3221 passed the House on Sept. 17 and it awaits a vote in the Senate.