Proposals by House Republicans Seek to Ease College-Application Process

June 27, 2014

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce announced on Thursday a series of bills intended to reform the college-application process. Outlined in a news release, the proposals tackle the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the availability of college metrics to families, and students’ financial literacy.

Contrary to the approach of the Senate, which on Wednesday unveiled a comprehensive 785-page bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, the House is taking a piecemeal approach to reauthorization.

The committee’s news release promised more bills in the coming days as the House works to overhaul the Higher Education Act. Rep. John P. Kline Jr., the Minnesota Republican who is chairman of the committee, said on Tuesday he expected the House to vote on several proposals before the midterm elections, in November.

Sponsored by three Democrats and three Republicans, the proposed Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act would allow applicants to submit family-income data from two years prior to the date they submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the Fafsa. The method is identical to the approach championed in the Senate’s Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency Act, or FAST Act, which was proposed last week by Sen. Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, and Sen. Michael F. Bennet, Democrat of Colorado. Unlike the FAST Act, which would replace the Fafsa with a two-question application for federal student aid, the House’s simplification measure, which is known as the SASA Act, would not address the length of application.

Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University who has conducted research on the Fafsa and the use of two-year-old tax data on family income, said a majority of students would not see a change in their Pell Grant awards if older data were used.

"It gives students the ability to know their financial aid several months earlier, and that will give them information about their federal financial-aid eligibility as they are searching for college," Mr. Kelchen said.

Besides the Fafsa-reform proposal, another bill would instruct the Department of Education to design a user-friendly college-data interface for students. Such a resource would include information on the completion rates for Pell Grant recipients and their peers.

The third proposal released on Thursday would require colleges to conduct annual counseling sessions with students on financial literacy, either in person or online. The sponsors of the latter two bills are Republicans.