Alexander to State Legislators: I Need Your Help to Make It Easier for Students to Apply for College

Posted on August 5, 2019

Senator Alexander meets backstage with Dolly Parton at the NCSL Summit in Nashville. 

NASHVILLE, Tenn., August 5, 2019 — United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today asked the nation’s state legislators for their help to make it easier for students to apply for college. 

“You know, the hardest thing I have had to do in Washington is remind people you do not get any smarter flying an hour to Washington once a week. I believe, the best decisions are made state by state and community by community,” Alexander said. “You all played a significant role in fixing No Child Left Behind, ending the Common Core mandate and restoring decisions about education back to teachers, parents and school superintendents — and there is one other thing I need your help on.

“There are 20 million families, including 400,000 here in Tennessee, that fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, every year. Tennessee’s former Governor, Bill Haslam, told me it’s the single biggest impediment to more students enrolling in Tennessee Promise, our state’s free, two year college program. I’m working to update the Higher Education Act and would like to include a proposal to shorten the FAFSA to 15-25 questions. I need you to say to your senators and congressman, don’t miss the opportunity to make it easier for students to apply for federal aid.”

Alexander welcomed the more than 6,000 state legislators, legislative staff and federal officials to Nashville today for their national conference, where they presented the senator with a picture of the Tennessee Capitol in honor of his commitment to strengthening state and federal partnerships. In 2013, the National Conference of State Legislatures gave Alexander and three other senators its “Restoring the Balance” Award for protecting states’ rights, the first time in 10 years the organization gave this award to U.S. senators. 

Alexander spoke before Governor Bill Lee interviewed Dolly Parton about her Imagination Library.

Background on the FAFSA

Every year 20 million students complete the FAFSA. At a hearing before the Senate education committee in 2013, witnesses testified that the FAFSA was a major barrier that prevented students from attending college. In January 2015, Alexander introduced bipartisan legislation based on their research to simplify the FAFSA to a postcard with just two questions. Alexander then held seven round tables around Tennessee to hear from students, parents, college counselors, college presidents, Tennessee Promise mentors, and financial aid professionals about the FAFSA. At one roundtable, the former president of Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis told Alexander he believes that he loses 1,500 students each semester because of the complexity of the form. Alexander’s legislation served as a starting point for outside organizations to develop additional proposals to simplify the FAFSA. The senator has said one of his priorities for updating the Higher Education Act is to shorten the FAFSA to 15-25 questions. 

In October, the U.S. Department of Education launched a new mobile application that works on smartphones and tablets to make it simpler and easier to apply for and, in the future, pay back federal aid, including completing the FAFSA. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited Sevier County High School with Alexander in November to help students use the application and complete the first steps of the FAFSA.