Blog Post | October 2, 2008

Secretary Spellings’s Shorter FAFSA

I’m glad Secretary Spellings is taking a step forward: developing specific examples and proposals forces people to think and be creative in response. But I have to admit that the sample form raises a lot of questions about what the Department’s proposal is, and whether it will require legislation to implement. Are a student’s own earnings going to be completely eliminated from the eligibility formulas? The form asks for the student or the parent’s income, not both.

One minor point about the “26” questions: in some cases the numbers were removed but the number of questions remained the same (for example, the two questions about selective service registration have one number on the new form but two numbers on the old form). Counted by the same method as the 106 on the old form, the sample form has 41.

But focusing on the raw number of questions is sort of like looking at test scores without context. Families don’t mind having to answer easy questions like their street address or whether they have other children already in college. The goal should be to eliminate the difficult, show-stopper questions that require the applicant to do research or to be a tax expert. To accomplish that goal, the Department will have to go beyond this first step.

Congress last year paved the way for the Secretary to work with the IRS on a system that, with the taxpayer’s permission, would feed information directly from the tax form into the financial aid application process. Yet there is no evidence in this announcement of any IRS cooperation. The form still asks applicants to find numbers on particular lines on their tax forms.

-Bob Shireman