108-question student aid form needs streamlining

FAFSA-logo-smallThere are approximately 66,000 high school seniors in the state of Tennessee. Of that number, by April 24 this year, nearly 45,000 or 68 percent had completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the complicated, 108-question student aid formevery student seeking federal financial aid for college must fill out.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander

Now that tuition is free under the Tennessee Promise program, the principal obstacle for a qualified Tennessee student to obtain two more years of education after high school is not money: it is this unnecessarily complicated federal form.

Simplifying the FAFSA could ease the burdens on students and families, and encourage more students to take advantage of the Tennessee Promise program, which is what I discussed with Stacy Lightfoot, vice president of College & Career Success Initiatives at the Public Education Foundation in Chattanooga, this week at a hearing in the Senate education committee, which I chair, on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.

One of the problems with the FAFSA is that it wastes time and money. The other problem is it discourages people from going to college that want to go.

In order to promote Tennessee Promise, Governor Haslam recruited a number of volunteer mentors to help students plan for college. However, some of these mentors tell me they are spending most of their time not advising the students about their lives, the amount of loans available, or where to go to school, but helping them fill out this form.

I, along with a bipartisan group of senators, have proposed a solution.

We have a bill to cut the FAFSA form from 108 questions down to two:

  1. What is your family size?
  2. What was your household income two years ago?

Reducing the FAFSA form down to these questions could help mentors spend more time advising students instead of filling out a form, not to mention eliminate the biggest obstacle to tens of thousands of Tennesseans seeking federal aid and taking advantage of free tuition at community colleges.

The FAFSA is just one example of the problem with federal government overregulation. It’s time to start weeding the garden of these bad rules and regulations, starting with simplifying the FAFSA, to ease the burdens on students and families and encourage more Tennesseans to take advantage of the Tennessee Promise.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) may be reached via his website’s contact page.