Duncan to Announce Planned Overhaul of Student Aid Form

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is expected to announce today an effort to streamline the complicated process of applying for federal financial aid for college.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which includes more than 100 questions about income and assets, is so difficult that some parents pay private companies to fill it out for them or just give up. By Education Department estimates, about 1.5 million students would probably be eligible for Pell grants -- which are for low-income families -- but do not apply.

The federal government collects much of the same information on tax forms. In a pilot program that begins in January, students who apply for aid for the spring semester will be able to get their tax data from the Internal Revenue Service online so they can more easily complete the application. That option eventually may be expanded to all students.

Because of the recession, federal aid applications have increased by 12 percent over this time last year.

Education Department officials said Duncan will ask Congress to let students apply based on the information on tax returns rather than requiring additional documentation such as statements on investments, untaxed income and bank accounts, as they must now.

Duncan also will propose shortening and simplifying the online application, which most students use, by dropping some questions. Families would be able to fill out a "smarter" online form that would quickly provide information about whether they are likely to be eligible for aid.

"We have to educate our way to a better economy," Duncan said in a statement yesterday. "The FAFSA improvements will reduce the burden on the 16 million students and families who apply for federal financial aid every year, and are designed to help increase college enrollment among low-income and middle-income students."

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