Congress to simplify FAFSA form

By Andy Kwalwaser

Last weekend Shivani Mishra went home to spend time with her family and her FAFSA form.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, asks students to submit their financial and academic qualifications for college financial aid.

“I had to wait until I went home so I could have all my tax information and my family’s tax information together,” said Mishra, freshman in Business.

Congress is considering ways to streamline the application process, which currently can take anywhere from half an hour to ten hours to complete.

One possible solution would have the Department of Education and Internal Revenue Service share student financial data already submitted on previous forms.

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“Because of its complexity, FAFSA is more of an obstacle than a gateway for the people who need it most,” said Laura Asher, associate director of the Institute for College Access and Success. “If you are moving a lot or changing jobs, it can be tough to pull the information together.”

Asher said she believes the measures would improve student data security by eliminating unnecessary copies of sensitive information.

The Department of Education and Internal Revenue Service have held preliminary talks, but the design process could take between one and two years, she said.

Dan Mann, university director of financial aid, said he is interested in improving the FAFSA form, but said its oversimplification can lead to inaccuracy.

“I think that the current form and process is good,” he said. “I get concerned when they talk about further simplification that we might lose our ability to make good financial aid decisions.”

He said the FAFSA process has improved over the last decade, with more information available through high schools and Web sites.

“I think we’re doing a much better job making information available,” Mann said.

Several companies offer FAFSA completion services, although Mann said the University does not endorse any of them.

However, Don Singleton, vice president of Student Financial Aid Services Inc., said the aid process can be daunting for families with little experience.

“It affects not just the students, but the whole family,” Singleton said.

The company charges clients between $49.99 and $79.99 to complete their FAFSA forms.

Singleton said the company has contacted the offices of several congressmen regarding the proposed changes to FAFSA.

“Any time you’re in a support service helping people navigate a government form, there is always talk about changing things that will affect your business,” Singleton said.

Mann said students should not discount the resources already available to help them complete the FAFSA forms.

“If you look at this over time, one could argue that a great deal of simplification has already been done,” he said.