The free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) may become more user-friendly if a bill called the Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency (FAST) Act goes into effect. If approved by the Senate, it may redefine the financial aid process for UCR students, 87 percent of whom received financial aid in 2013.
Currently, the application hosts 108 questions — such as a parent’s education level — to determine a student’s financial need. To streamline the process, the bill calls for an application which will only require information on household income and family size to determine Pell Grant eligibility.
Senators Lamar Alexander and Michael Bennet, both of whom serve on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), are pushing the bill. According to the draft of the bill, if successful, it may help provide aid to the 2 million students who were eligible, but did not apply for financial aid. The committee’s next meeting will occur on Jan. 21.
UCR Financial Aid Director Jose Aguilar described the difficulties of processing the applications. “I agree that we need to simplify the application process. Unfortunately we need the family’s income information to fully assess how much financial aid a student is eligible (for), so as far as improving the application process, it is hard to say,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar stated that problems in processing the application, such as parents who do not file their income taxes by the application deadline, slow down the approval process. He encourages students to estimate their parents’ income if they do not plan to file taxes by Mar. 2, the California deadline for the application, in order to prevent delays. Students who do not file their FAFSA by the Mar. 2 deadline will become ineligible to receive Cal Grants.
The U.S. Department of Education recently made efforts to simplify the application by creating the data retrieval tool, which allows parents and students to access their tax forms directly from the Internal Revenue Service. This method allows parents to send their tax information more effectively, decreasing the time it takes to apply.
Due to the high percentage of students who apply for financial aid, Aguilar found it difficult to comment on whether the lengthy application process deters students from applying. Studies from Harvard and Stanford, however, argue that simplifying the financial aid application may encourage more low-income students to pursue higher education.
Kris Moisa, a third-year political science major who receives financial aid, shared her experience of working on the application. “I do think that the application is pretty long. I usually try to convince my parents to fill it out,” Moisa stated.
In addition, Moisa gave her suggestion on how to improve the application. “Every year my financial aid gets smaller. How about adding just a couple more questions to the proposal, like how much money you had to pay the previous year out-of-pocket, how many loans did a student have to take out?” Moisa said.