Federal Policy Priorities
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Drawing on the expertise of hundreds of organizational members who serve more than 2 million students in almost every U.S. state, the National College Access Network is dedicated to improving the quality and quantity of support that underrepresented students receive to apply to, enter, and succeed in postsecondary education, whether through a two- or four-year degree or high-quality certificate program.

NCAN members know that students who receive federal aid are more likely to succeed in higher education. The U.S. Congress can make changes, which can be found below and in NCAN's federal policy priorities brief, to help more students benefit from federal aid and get the postsecondary credentials the U.S. economy needs.

Read NCAN’s letter to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Labor-HHS-Education appropriations subcommittee regarding funding priorities for fiscal year 2020.

Sancia Celestin, an Access College Foundation scholarship recipient and NCAN policy intern, provided testimony about the importance of the Pell Grant and Federal Work-Study program during a public witness hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2019.

Simplify the FAFSA

Eliminate unnecessary questions: The FAFSA currently poses 142 questions to prospective college students, some of which are applicable to less than 1 percent of all filers. NCAN’s user-tested “Streamlined FAFSA,” which eliminated many unnecessary questions for low-income students, improved completion times by 39 percent and decreased the error rate by 56 percent. Learn more at www.collegeaccess.org/page/FixFAFSA.

Expedite the process for the neediest students: Award automatic full Pell Grants to students who receive most means-tested federal benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program without resubmitting income data they have already provided to qualify for those benefits.

Decrease verification: Roughly half of all filers eligible for a Pell Grant are flagged for verification, an audit-like process to confirm information provided on the FAFSA. An estimated 22 percent of applicants abandon the aid process at this point, making it much less likely that they will enroll in college. By comparison, the Internal Revenue Service audits just 0.7 percent of all income tax filers.

Restore the Purchasing Power of the Pell Grant Program

Index the program to the rate of inflation: Legislation that tied the size of Pell awards to the rate of inflation expired in 2018. Policymakers should reinstate this provision to ensure that the purchasing power of the Pell Grant does not further dwindle over time. A maximum Pell Grant now covers less than 30 percent of the cost of attendance at a four-year, public university — the lowest purchasing power in more than 40 years.

Fund the Pell Grant with mandatory spending: A vast majority of appropriations for the Pell Grant comes from discretionary federal spending, leaving the maximum award vulnerable to fluctuation in the annual federal budget process. To keep the primary source of grant aid for low-income students from shrinking, Pell Grants should be supported by mandatory spending.

Improve the Federal Work-Study Program

Make the program available to students who need it most: According to the Congressional Budget Office, 35 percent of FWS dollars were awarded to students in the top two income quartiles in 2016, an inequity rooted in outdated policy that allocates a disproportionate amount of FWS funds to institutions that enroll relatively few low-income students. An updated system would target more FWS dollars to institutions that serve large numbers of Pell Grant recipients.

Expand the program to serve more students: The FWS program currently serves approximately 700,000 students per year, less than 10 percent of the 7.8 million students who receive a Pell Grant. Because students who participate in FWS are more likely to complete college, Congress should increase funding so more low-income students can benefit.

Close Achievement Gaps Through Improved Data

Create a Secure, Privacy-Protected, Federal Student-level Data Network (SLDN): The current landscape of federal data leads to an incomplete view of which types of students are successful in which programs. A revamped system would allow students to better understand their college choices and policymakers to better evaluate the use of public dollars in higher education. For a recommendation on how to build such a system, please see the Institute of Higher Education Policy report available here: bit.ly/IHEPdata.

Count All Students in Federal Data Collections: The government should develop a list of student characteristics – enrollment status, race/ethnicity, economic status, first-generation status, etc. – and measure program completion and earnings for each subgroup.

Support Dreamers

Provide a Legal Pathway to Citizenship for Dreamers: Our immigrant students brought to the U.S. in their youth are already contributing to our country. They deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential through both education and job opportunities. Those with DACA status and other Dreamers should have a pathway to legal citizenship.

NCAN supports the Dream Act of 2017 and our students who are affected by the ongoing: