On October 20, Susan Dynarski delivered a powerful talk at TEDxIndianapolis: "Why financial aid is broken and a simple solution to fix it." The focus? Dynarski’s simple and cost-effective strategy for dramatically reducing a significant roadblock to college for low-income and first-generation students.
“My dad was a high school dropout. And I’m a professor. I’ve testified before Congress, and I’ve gone to the White House, and I write for the New York Times, and all of this would have been completely unimaginable for my mother and my father. So education can be transformative,” Dynarski begins. However, Dynarski clearly recognizes how unusual her own experience is, citing “enormous disparities by income—by accident of birth—in who goes to college.”
A huge barrier to college for low-income and first-generation students is the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, with 108 questions and, as Dynarski says, “dozens of pages of arcane instructions.” Through extensive research, Dynarski has found that two simple questions could replace the FAFSA with minimal impact on aid calculations: 1) What is your income, and 2) What is your family size. Both questions, she explains, are already included in IRS tax forms, eliminating the need for a complicated form that presents a formidable barrier that stands “between low-income kids and the education they deserve.”
Susan Dynarski is a professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, a professor of education at the University of Michigan's School of Education, and a professor of economics at the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. She is co-founder and co-director of the Ford School’s Education Policy Initiative, which engages in applied, policy-relevant research designed to improve educational achievement and outcomes.