Simple FAFSA Act "Will Move the Needle" on Completion Rates

November 16, 2017

By Carrie Warick, Director of Policy and Advocacy 

The Simple FAFSA Act of 2017, introduced today by Democrat Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-01), continues an important conversation in simplifying one of the most complicated steps in the college-going process: applying for financial aid. Every year, $2.7 billion in Pell Grants goes unclaimed because college students don’t fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. 

Blunt Rochester and several of her House colleagues – including Rep. Bobby Scott (VA-3), Democrat and ranking member of the House education committee – present a plan to increase access to higher education and break down these barriers to financial aid by simplifying the FAFSA in a way that would stop asking low-income students to repeatedly prove that they are poor, and eliminating burdensome questions for all filers. 

“The Simple FAFSA Act of 2017 will move the needle on today’s FAFSA completion rate of only 61 percent among high school seniors,” said Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network. “Most importantly, the bill helps those who need the aid the most by eliminating financial questions for those families already receiving a means-tested benefit, sending a clear message that student aid is available.”

The bill’s other co-leads, all Democrats, are Rep. Susan Davis (CA-53), Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (Northern Mariana Islands), and Rep. Ami Bera (CA-7).

Today’s bill adopts an idea that college access practitioners, financial aid officers, and the philanthropic community all agree upon: students should answer as few questions as possible based on the complexity of their financial situation. The pathways proposal presented in the Simple FAFSA Act resembles a model tested by NCAN in January 2017. They key component? Ensuring that only students whose families file tax schedules would be required to answer the most complicated, financial questions. Students who receive a federally means-tested benefit, and have thereby demonstrated that they do not have the means to pay for college, would not be subject to any financial questions in the FAFSA process. Finally, students who do not receive a means-tested benefit, but also do not file tax schedules, would answer limited financial questions.

"The Simple FAFSA Act of 2017's proposed revisions to the FAFSA application process tackle the most common and complicated challenges facing our low-income students and families,” said Austin Buchan, CEO of College Forward in Austin, TX, an NCAN member program. “The proposed changes come by way of years of rigorous student-centric and economic analysis, and strike a sound balance between those two priorities. College Forward is confident that, if passed, this bill has the potential to clear unnecessary roadblocks that, for too long, have stood in the way of our students' post-secondary success." 

NCAN and its members look forward to participating in a robust conversation about FAFSA simplification, which is one of NCAN’s top priorities. Please click here for more information on NCAN’s stance on FAFSA simplification.

NCAN member College Now Greater Cleveland also expressed support for the new bill's provisions.

"It is designed to help students pursue and complete post-secondary education.  College Now has been serving students for over 50 years — removing barriers that negatively impact educational attainment," College Now Chief Program Officer Dr. Michele Scott Taylor said. "The Simple FAFSA ACT of 2017 seeks to further eliminate barriers and provide equity in opportunities and outcomes for our most vulnerable population.”

Another supporter of the bill, NCAN member The College Crusade of Rhode Island, said the legislation "makes great strides in streamlining the FAFSA process, especially with regard to reducing the frequency at which low-income students will need to complete the FAFSA."

"This legislation addresses many of the obstacles that low-income and first generation students encounter when it comes to applying for financial aid," College Crusade President and CEO Andrew Bramson said. "The Simple FAFSA Act of 2017 will greatly enhance our ability as a college access program to help students complete all of their financial aid procedures so that they can spend more time focusing on their studies and accomplishing their academic goals."

Troy Miller, associate director for research and policy at NCAN member Florida College Access Network, said financial need represents the largest gap in college access among the state's high school graduates, who leave behind over $100 million in Pell Grants each year by not completing the FAFSA.
 
"We support NCAN's efforts, and any legislation, that stands to make the FAFSA easier to complete, easier to understand and helps to improve college access, persistence and completion,” Miller said.

Rich Nickel, president and CEO of NCAN member College Success Arizona, echoed that sentiment.

“We applaud recent efforts to simplify the FAFSA process,” he said. “With all the barriers students from working families face in obtaining a college degree, completing often redundant financial aid paperwork to continually prove their need for assistance, should not be one of them. We know how critical a college degree is for lifetime success, and are encouraged to see purposeful conversation, and meaningful proposals to reduce the barriers for low-income students to access financial support to go to college.”

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