Education Week: What the FAFSA Simplification Trump Signed Means for Students

Posted on December 19, 2019

A change to the FAFSA included in a new higher education bill will eliminate as many as 22 questions for students filling out the lengthy, 108-question student aid form.

This FAFSA simplification was included in the FUTURE Act, a bipartisan bill President Donald Trump signed into law Thursday that also provides permanent funding for historically black colleges and universities and other minority serving institutions.

And now that the bill has become law, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., can take a break to ice his shoulder, which is surely sore from repeatedly holding up the Free Application for Student Aid as a symbol of the need for change. Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee, has been one of the most visible champions of FAFSA simplification. But lawmakers in both parties, including Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., called for an update because they viewed the cumbersome process of completing the document as a barrier for students hoping to enroll in—and complete—college. It's a relatively small, wonky change that will nonetheless make a big difference, they've argued.

What will change in the FAFSA? The FUTURE Act (full name: Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act) eliminates the need for student aid applicants to provide the same information twice to two separate federal agencies. The bill allows the U.S. Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service to share information already included on a family's or individual's tax returns. Instead of filling in all of that data, applicants can just make one click on the online form to permit information sharing. It will also streamline the process millions of applicants use to verify that they don't file tax returns.

Those changes could be a big deal for students themselves and for K-12 schools that are interested in helping them chart a post-college path. They will also reduce burdens for college and universities that help students complete the FAFSA annually to renew aid, Alexander said in a statement.

"Last week, the president of Lane College —one of six HBCUs in Tennessee—told me that he has three staff members who spend a significant amount of time helping the 40 percent of Lane College students who are currently selected for verification each year," he said. "This legislation would greatly reduce that burden on his students and their families and allow the staff to spend their time counseling students about academics or jobs, instead of helping them fill out a form."

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos also praised the change.

"The FUTURE Act will have a lasting impact on students and their families," she said in a statement.

And now, a walk down memory lane ...

Of course, many applicants fill out the FAFSA online, or even on their phones. But displaying the lengthy paper form during public appearances has become one of Alexander's trademarks in recent years. Unfortunately, Politics K-12 doesn't have a big budget to buy the rights to popular songs. But we recommend you listen to something inspirational while looking through the following collection of photos featuring Alexander and the FAFSA.

A big moment: This photo from Sen. Alexander's Twitter account shows him holding up the FAFSA in the Oval Office today after President Trump signed the bill. He's joined by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the ranking member on the House education committee; Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.; Trump's daughter and aide, Ivanka Trump; and DeVos.