Clarksville Leaf Chronicle: FAFSA so complex that it stops students who most need aid from getting it
Posted on October 25, 2019
This week, I introduced legislation to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), an archaic form that nearly 20 million families, including 400,000 in Tennessee, fill out every year to apply for federal student aid.
The complicated 108-question FAFSA is one of the biggest challenges low-income students who want to go to college face.
Former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told me that Tennessee has the highest rate of students filling out the FAFSA, but it is still the single biggest impediment to more students enrolling in Tennessee Promise, our state’s free, two-year community college program.
I received a letter from a Tennessean named Janet, who volunteers with low-income students in Nashville and has seen the challenges students and their families face in applying for college and financial aid. She describes the FAFSA as “being a huge impediment to students raised in poverty to attend college.”
She told the story of an excellent student who began classes at Middle Tennessee State University. But six weeks into her fall semester, her FAFSA was flagged for verification, a complicated process that stops Pell grant payments while a student and their families scramble to submit their federal tax information.
Janet wrote saying that there has to be a better way.
The legislation I introduced this week, the FAFSA Simplification Act, creates this better way by making it simpler and easier for Tennessee students to apply for financial aid. This proposal will make it easier for Tennessee families to apply for federal student aid by doing three things:
First, it reduces the number of questions on the FAFSA from 108 to 18-30 basic questions about the student, their family, and their plans for college.
Second, it greatly reduces the need for the burdensome verification process that Janet mentioned to me in her letter.
Third, it allows students to find out as early as 8th grade how much Pell grant funding they may be eligible for – so students can start planning for college sooner.
This is a common sense proposal that would allow more Tennessee students to receive federal aid to attend college, and I hope to see it signed into law this year.