“Legislators and the Department of Education have been trying for years to radically simplify [the Fafsa],” writes The New York Times editorial board in "Time to fix the Fafsa." They’re referring to the 100-plus-question form students and families must complete to apply for federal financial aid for college. “But every time they cut a few questions, they add a few more,” explains the board, calling the Fafsa “as torturous and perplexing as a federal income tax form.”
The editorial board goes on to describe an ambitious bipartisan Senate bill, inspired by Susan Dynarski’s work, to reduce the form to two questions. They also describe a less ambitious House bill as well as Dynarski’s latest recommendation to replace the form with a checkbox on 1040s.
Dynarski’s research with Judith Scott-Clayton of Columbia University indicates that simplification of the form will have little impact on financial aid decisions. Other reputable research suggests that simplification will dramatically increase the number of students applying for aid and the number of low-income students attending college and earning degrees.
The downside? The New York Times editorial board cites loss of information about family assets that might be sold to finance a degree, or how long applicants have lived in a state. “All parties—federal, state and institutional—will need to think hard about what information they really need and how best to keep the number of questions to a minimum,” writes the board.