The U.S. Department of Education and members of Congress are working to overhaul the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, with the first change — a mobile app that will allow families to fill out the FAFSA on their phones — set to launch next spring.
As the federal government continues to work on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, which was last reauthorized in 2008 and technically expired in 2013, the Department of Education and members of Congress recently introduced multiple initiatives to simplify the process of filling out FAFSA. In addition to launching the app, they have also suggested ways of shortening the application.
“The federal government has done a great job in the online FAFSA environment by using skip logic and enabling a direct connect with the [Internal Revenue Service] to help students and families complete the FAFSA form,” said University Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi. “Yale would support the simplification efforts on the part of the federal government, not just for Yale students, but for all college and graduate students nationally.”
The new app represents the first step towards realizing “Next Generation Financial Services Environment,” a plan devised by Andrew Johnson, the chief operating officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid, to consolidate all the services of Federal Student Aid into one user-friendly platform. In an interview with Politico published Wednesday, Johnson added that his department is considering adding other features to the app, such as tools that will allow users to compare financial aid offers, manage loan payments and check their credit scores.
Simplifying the application itself, however, will not be such a straightforward process, as any changes to FAFSA will require congressional approval.
The Simple FAFSA Act of 2017, meant to simplify the application, was introduced in Congress earlier this month. If it passes, it will codify the practice of using financial information from the previous two years to fill out the application and will create three pathways to apply for federal aid.
Under the three-pathway model, students who have received any federal means-tested benefits during the two years before they filled out the application would indicate so on the form and would not have to fill out anything else. Students who did not receive federal means-tested benefits over that span would be directed to the second pathway and answer questions about their tax-filing status. Students and their parents who were not required to file any schedules would be asked a few questions about their income and none about their assets. All other students would have to continue filling out information about both income and assets.
The bill would also expand federal aid to include Dreamer students, allow Pell Grant recipients to fill out the FAFSA only once and increase the threshold for automatic zero expected family contribution from $23,000 to $34,000.
Johnson told Politico that the Education Department is also working on simplifying the application. He said the department has already built a version of FAFSA that would reduce the number of questions from the current 108 to 36. He added that the department plans to ask Congress to permit the IRS to release data to the Education Department, which would allow students to fill out FAFSA only once and set it to renew automatically with updated data each year.
Yale students interviewed expressed mixed feelings about the potential simplification of the application form.
Sara Tridenti ’19 said she would prefer to provide in-depth information about her particular situation to the federal services so the award could be best tailored to her family’s needs, and she worried that shortening the application could impede her ability to do this.
“Representing any situation is difficult with pure numbers alone,” Tridenti said. “So I think it’s better to have a rigorous survey that at least tries to capture some intricacies, rather than fitting things into broad categories.”
Still, she said, her parents, who are filling out her FAFSA, have lived in the United States for their entire lives and understand how the system works. For families of immigrants who might be less familiar with tax codes and the intricacies of the English language, she acknowledged, a simplified application might be better.
Isabel Johnson ’21 said she supported simplifying the FAFSA. She explained that, at the moment, she needs a lot of help from her parents, who are more well-versed in the tax process, to fill out the forms and that some students might not get as much help.
She added that she knew a lot of people in high school who chose not fill out the application solely because they were not sure they would get any money and did not want to waste time filling out a lengthy application.
FAFSA has been available to the public since Oct. 1.
Anastasiia Posnova | firstname.lastname@example.org