October 30, 2007

Keeping aid applications simple

Posted in Student Loan News, The Financial Aid Process at 8:00 AM by Joe From Boston

Well, it seems like everyone agrees that financial aid applications should get simpler, but there’s a disagreement on what should get cut!  Read the excerpt below from the news article from Inside Higher Ed.

Simplicity vs. Equity in Aid Applications

Keep it simple and low-income students will fill it out — and go to college.

That’s the thinking of many financial aid experts and government officials these days when it comes to student aid applications. Elite private universities and flagship publics alike report that they attract more low-income students when they make aid criteria simple, as in “if your family income is below X, you don’t pay a penny or borrow anything.” Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has been posing with the current federal aid application, complaining that it’s too long and complicated. Many aid experts agree. Susan Dynarski, a professor at Harvard University, goes so far as to suggest that aid applications should fit on a postcard.

No one likes to defend long, complicated forms, of course. But at a packed session at the College Board’s annual meeting Thursday, another view on simplicity emerged. Because of the current rules on the federal aid forms, many said, families of means, families with the ability to pay for their children’s college education, are found eligible for federal aid. Only making these families fill out more forms — plenty of them far from simple — allows colleges to identify the wealthy in the aid pool.

While officials talked about how to do that work in ways that embraced the simplicity model (and technology is making some of that possible), some voiced more radical ideas.

A College Board official said that there had been some discussions with the Education Department about the possibility of using the College Board’s aid applications in some form in place of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA). While such a move is far from certain — an Education Department spokeswoman said she knew nothing about these discussions and that the department was pushing simplicity — even raising the issue surprised and intrigued many at the meeting.

Until Congress in 1992 demanded the creation of the free form (depriving the College Board of a great deal of business for its services), the board’s applications were the dominant player in the field. The 1992 move is still seen as a mistake by plenty of aid officials and certainly by the College Board, where — one official quipped — it is known as “the great divorce.”

Since then, students have used the FAFSA for federal aid, but many colleges — especially those with decent aid budgets — also use College Board services or individual forms to determine their own aid allocations. One concern several raised at the meeting was an increasing divergence between the “federal methodology” (as FAFSA is known) and the “institutional methodology” (as institutional choices are known).

Obviously the College Board has incentives to point out flaws in FAFSA — more colleges might use the board’s services. But one of the striking things about the discussion was the number of directions it led (not all of which would necessarily lead to more business for the College Board). One aid officer in the audience said that he agreed that there should be one aid application, but he said that instead of trying to revive the College Board’s pre-1992 role, aid officials should just accept that those days are over, drop the separate aid applications, and focus on improving the FAFSA. And one leading expert on student debt at the session said that the discussion pointed to the need to link up the application process and tax records — which could be done by the Education Department and the Internal Revenue Service, and shouldn’t involve the College Board.



  1. […] moniqueleonard created an interesting post today on Keeping aid applications simple.Here’s a short outline:A College Board official said that there had been some discussions with the Education Department about the possibility of using the College Board’s aid applications in some form in place of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid … […]

  2. […] Original post by moniqueleonard […]

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