Posted on September 17, 2020
“After nearly seven years of work on these issues, it boils down to this: It makes no sense to make it this complicated to apply for federal aid for college. It makes no sense to discourage the very students Congress wants to encourage to attend college and benefit from federal financial aid…The right time to finish this job is now – a time when college students and their families are under so much pressure and facing so much uncertainty, especially homeless students, students in foster care, and those living with grandparents.” — Senator Lamar Alexander
WASHINGTON, September 17, 2020 — Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said, “the time to finish fixing the FAFSA is now and I hope we can pass bipartisan legislation to do so by the end of this year,” during this morning’s committee hearing to discuss how Congress can finish the job of shortening the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
“Twenty million students and their families are in the middle of what is likely the strangest first semester of college in a century,” Alexander continued. “Almost everything has changed for students – except for one thing – students still have to answer 108 questions on the dreaded FAFSA form.”
“For years now, I’ve carted around the FAFSA as a prop to make the case for simplifying it – but it’s no joke, especially this year,” Alexander said.
Alexander noted an eight percent drop in the number of black undergraduate students enrolled in summer sessions, compared with last summer’s enrollment, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Many students are questioning their investment in a college education at a time when many classes are only offered online,” Alexander said. “Many of the low-income students who would benefit most economically from college long term are putting it off all together.”
Alexander acknowledged Ranking Member Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.), many other senators’, and both the Trump and Obama Administrations’ work to simplify the FAFSA—including the FUTURE Act, which President Trump signed into law in December 2019, that reduced the FAFSA by up to 22 questions and eliminated the bureaucratic nightmare created by requiring students to give the federal government the same tax information twice, once for the IRS then again for the Department of Education.
“After nearly seven years of work on these issues, it boils down to this: It makes no sense to make it this complicated to apply for federal aid for college. It makes no sense to discourage the very students Congress wants to encourage to attend college and benefit from federal financial aid,” Alexander continued. “So today, we’ve got a piece of legislation that would finish the job. It has broad bipartisan support and is based on recommendations that four of today’s witnesses gave us nearly seven years ago.”
“And, it does something else that Senator Murray has been working on for 20 years—makes it easier for students who are homeless, in the foster system or not in touch with their parents,” Alexander concluded. “Our bill allows these students to apply for aid as independent students, making the application process for them much simpler.”
Bipartisan legislation introduced by Alexander and Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) would:
1. Reduce total questions on the FAFSA from 108 questions to a maximum of 33 questions
2. End the Department of Education’s lengthy financial data verification process by instead using data from the Internal Revenue Service
3. Continue to collect and provide states and colleges with the information they need to determine State and Institutional aid
4. Make it easier for students who are homeless, in the foster system or not in touch with their parent, to apply for aid as independent students, making the application process for them much simpler
5. Create a simple Pell Grant eligibility formula so that middle and high school students—and anyone interested in applying for aid—will know how much Pell Grant money they have to go to college
6. Enable an additional 420,000 students qualify for Pell Grants each year
7. Enable an additional 1.6 million students qualify to receive the maximum Pell Grant award each year
8. Help students from single parent families benefit more from Pell grants because the formula would account for the greater needs of these families
Read Chairman Alexander’s full prepared opening statement here.