There is widespread agreement that the current Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a barrier to college access. The FAFSA is longer than the federal tax form, complex, intimidating in tone, and requires a great deal of personal and family financial information that can be especially difficult for low-income students to track down. Most simplification proposals focus on reducing the amount of information used to determine federal aid eligibility. Concerns about equity and cost tend to stall such efforts, because they could change who qualifies for aid and how much aid they receive.
Support has grown steadily since we issued Going to the Source: A Practical Way to Simplify the FAFSA, in March 2007. Most significantly, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA), which encourages and empowers the U.S. Department of Education to simplify the FAFSA by pre-populating it with tax data as we have proposed. The Institute will continue to press for testing and implementation of this practical approach to simplification, as well as other ways to improve the financial aid process.