Thanks, Obama: Proposal would simplify FAFSA

AP Photo.President Barack Obama waves as he takes the stage to speak March 10 in Atlanta about his plan to clamp down on companies that service federal student debt.

AP Photo.President Barack Obama waves as he takes the stage to speak March 10 in Atlanta about his plan to clamp down on companies that service federal student debt.

By Carolyn Conte | The Duquesne Duke

President Barack Obama proposed in his 2016 Department of Education budget that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid should be shortened from 108 questions to 30.

College students complete the FAFSA form to apply for state and federal loans, grants and work-study programs. All Duquesne students are required to fill it out, and this year’s deadline was March 10.

According to a March 2014 White House press release, Obama has long favored FAFSA reform. He launched the “FAFSA Completion Initiative” last year to encourage more students to fill out the form, and hopes the simplification of the form will boost completion rates.

With 108 questions, the current FAFSA requires specific details about a student’s life, including the year divorced parents split up and any drug use the applicant may have participated in or witnessed.

Duquesne sophomore Olivia Erickson said the form can take up to two hours to complete.

WhiteHouse.Gov states that “questions about assets that penalize savings and untaxed veterans benefits, child support, and clergy pay” would be taken out, if Congress passes the budget after the House and Senate edit it for the Department of Education.

Almost 2 million students who qualify for financial aid do not receive it because they do not apply, according to a 2011 survey by Mark Kantrowitz of FinAid.org. However, some schools offer students help completing the form.

The FAFSA reform proposal is part of the President’s plan to enhance the education system in 2016. The budget requests $70.7 billion in funds for the Department of Education, a 5.4 percent increase from the previous year. It is most likely that Congress will edit this budget significantly, so the fate of FAFSA remains ambiguous, according to Richard Esposito, director of financial aid at Duquesne.

“At this time we’re still waiting for more clarification from the government,” Esposito said.

Esposito said if the form is shortened, the financial aid office “would look to see if the students’ needs are met,” and then make adjustments as needed.

In July 2014, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) released a bill called “FAST” to condense the 108 questions into only two: “What is your family size?” and “What was your household income two years ago?” This was meant to prevent over-borrowing and make repayments easier, according to the draft on help.senate.gov. However, FAST failed to pass the Senate.

The College Scholarship Service Profile is a supplemental financial aid application form created by the non-profit College Board. It provides more details than the FAFSA. This application is used by almost 400 schools, and costs $25, according to College Board’s website.

Esposito said Duquesne students might have to switch the CSS if the simplified FAFSA is not detailed enough.

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