Half the FAFSA: Cutting the Red Tape to Postsecondary Student Aid

January 12, 2017

Read the full report here, and register here to join NCAN members and students at a briefing in Washington, DC next month.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) enables millions of students to attend college. However, the complexity and length of the application results in low completion rates and leaves roughly $24 billion in federal student aid unclaimed. The National College Access Network (NCAN), given its commitment to the success of low-income students, has developed and consumer-tested a new Streamlined FAFSA that resolves these shortcomings by reducing completion time, improving accuracy and increasing usability for families and students. Learn more at collegeaccess.org/fixfafsa.

The FAFSA: What We Have Now

Despite nearly 25 years of enhancements, the FAFSA form still creates barriers for financial aid applicants. The length, complexity, additional sources required and lack of user understanding pose large, sometimes insurmountable, barriers for some students. Low-income and first-generation students who do not complete the FAFSA often fail to enroll in college or complete a postsecondary education, shortchanging themselves, their families and the American economy.

A New and Improved Form: The Streamlined FAFSA

NCAN studied the impact of the current FAFSA form to identify how to reduce these barriers while maintaining the integrity and universality of the form. After extensive research, development and testing, NCAN has created a new form, the Streamlined FAFSA, that reduces complexity for student aid seekers, meets the needs of institutions and maintains the integrity and universality of the current FAFSA.

The Streamlined FAFSA reduces the number of questions that applicants need to answer by updating the FSA ID to automatically fill in identifying questions. Additionally, the Streamlined FAFSA would use extreme skip logic to guide students down one of three pathways:

  • Pathway 1: as few as 20 questions for applicants from families who receive benefits from a means-tested program, allowing these individuals to automatically skip all financial questions and receive the maximum Pell Grant award for full-time enrollment.
  • Pathway 2: as few as 23 questions for applicants who do not participate in a means-tested benefit program and do not have to file tax schedules with their taxes.
  • Pathway 3: as few as 25 questions for applicants who file tax schedules with their taxes.

Key to the universality and brevity of the Streamlined FAFSA is its “State Page,” which collects the information that certain states need to administer their aid. Filers would be required to fill out this form only for states that have opted into the inclusion of these questions.

Streamlined FAFSA Results in Increased Completion Rates, Accuracy and Usability

NCAN’s Streamlined FAFSA outperforms the current form. Independent testing of the NCAN Streamlined FAFSA model examined completion time, error rate, satisfaction and usability. Using the Streamlined FAFSA resulted in:

  • less time to complete the parent demographic/financial and student financial sections;
  • reduced errors in filling out key demographic/financial sections and certain disclosure questions; and
  • greater satisfaction and usability by applicants.

NCAN’s efforts also uncovered the importance of organizing the college search process on the form onto a single page, strategically placing the “exit” button, accelerating and simplifying disclosure questions, expanding the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to help users identify which tax form they filed, and rewording the language of tax questions to reduce errors.

Furthermore, the Streamlined FAFSA boosts aid awareness and reduces uncertainty. For example, applicants who receive certain benefits from a federal means-tested program can be certain they will receive the maximum Pell Grant for full-time enrollment.

For more information, contact Communications Manager Allie Ciaramella via email or telephone at (202) 347-4848, ext. 210.

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