College students across the country universally dread one form: the FASFA.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is both confusing and time consuming to fill out — for many families the FAFSA is longer than their tax form — and yet it’s a necessary task for students who need aid in paying their tuition.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing to hear from experts across the country on the benefits, and how to best, streamline the FASFA application.
Among those experts was Birmingham’s own Kristina Scott, executive director of Alabama Possible — a nonprofit organization that removes barriers to prosperity in Alabama through education, collaboration, and advocacy.
“FAFSA continues to be a barrier to post-secondary attainment. Most people get help filing their taxes from something like HR Block or using Turbo Tax,” Scott testified. “One of my questions is do we need to build a similar system for FAFSA completion or would our limited private resources be better spent supporting student success.”
Scott explained Alabama is the nation’s sixth poorest state, and 900,000 Alabamians, 300,000 of whom are children, live below the poverty line.
“A low-income student is only half as likely as a high-income student to complete a postsecondary certificate or degree by age 26. However, those low-income Americans who do obtain a college degree are five times more likely than their peers to rise out of poverty,” Scott explained to the committee.
Scott made three recommendations to the committee on how to improve the FAFSA process:
- Streamline the FAFSA. A streamlined FAFSA with 15-25 questions about the student, their family, and where they want to go to college would give the US Department of Education the ability to assess a student’s need while cutting out unnecessary and often-intrusive questions.
- Focus the process on funds available to pay for college. Focus the process on what a family is expected to pay, instead of on grants and other assistance for which they qualify, is confusing and off-putting for the low-income families we serve.
- Decrease the verification burden.Verification is an audit-like process to confirm information provided on the FAFSA. Roughly half of all filers eligible for a Pell Grant are flagged for verification.