Members of Congress look to simplify FAFSA for low-income students


WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – Twenty million families fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid every year, but members of Congress say many others give up because the form is too complicated.

A Republican from Tennessee and a Democrat from Alabama say college isn’t for everyone, but they want to make sure students who want to enroll can afford it.

“This is the FAFSA.”

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander holds up the 10-page form that’s the key to students getting federal financial aid to pay for college.

“If you want to go to college, you can. Tuition is probably free or about free, but first, you have to fill out this 108-question FAFSA. That’s the problem,” said Alexander.

Only 60 percent of high school seniors nationwide completed the FAFSA form last year.

That left nearly three billion dollars in Pell Grants on the table.

“There has to be a better way,” said Alexander.

Alexander, a former university president and Education secretary, is working across party lines with Alabama Senator Doug Jones on a solution.

Their bill would reduce the number of questions on the FAFSA form from more than a hundred to fewer than 30.

“Simplifying this FAFSA form would get money in their hands. They can get money that is badly needed,” said Jones.

Jones and Alexander’s legislation would also reduce the number of forms that get flagged for verification, a process that cuts off the money until the family sends in their federal tax information.

The bill would also allow students to see as early as eighth grade how much Pell Grant funding they may get. The maximum Pell Grant is currently $6,195. Schools may offer less than that depending on a student’s need or course load.

“People want their kids to succeed. To do so, that often means a college degree,” said Jones.

Some colleges and universities are concerned that simplifying the FAFSA too much will make it harder to determine which students actually need the financial help.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos supports the idea, and one of Alexander and Jones’ colleagues in the House, Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett, is working on a similar plan. 

“So that no student is denied a higher education because of financial barriers,” said Doggett.

The lawmakers hope that Congress will approve the plan by the end of the year.

Alexander and Jones’ legislation is part of a bill package that would also permanently fund historic black colleges and universities and provide Pell Grants to prisoners.

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