Let’s Shrink the Fafsa, Senator Tells Financial-Aid Officers

July 01, 2014

Sen. Lamar Alexander defended his plan to scrap the Free Application for Federal Student Aid before a skeptical crowd of financial-aid administrators on Monday, telling them that the lengthy form is beyond repair.

In a speech at the annual conference of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators here, Mr. Alexander, a Republican of Tennessee, described his plan to replace the application, known as the Fafsa, with a postcard seeking just two pieces of information: family size and income.

"Rather than trying to reform, we’re starting from scratch," he said.

To illustrate his point, he unfurled the 10-page form with a practiced flourish, letting it fall dramatically to the floor, and then held up a postcard template.

But some in the audience weren't convinced that the much-maligned form remained a barrier to college access. During a subsequent question-and-answer session, James Reed, director of financial aid at West Texas A&M University, disputed the senator’s assertion that it takes three hours to complete the form, arguing that it’s really only a half-hour task.

"You must be reading an old form," Mr. Reed said.

Ted Malone, executive director of financial aid at Purdue University, pointed out that the vast majority of students now complete the form online, where skip logic and prepopulation with tax data allow users to bypass many of the financial questions.

"No one uses that 10-page form anymore," he said. The remaining questions "are just demographic."

Bert Logan, financial-aid director at Portland Community College, in Oregon, said he’d endorse the shortened form, but only if applicants could use two-year-old tax data. When Mr. Alexander replied that they could, Mr. Logan responded, "Thank you, I’m on board."

At the end of the session, Mr. Alexander, a former secretary of education, thanked the aid administrators for their feedback. "That’s why I’m here," he said. But he insisted again that if they wanted to improve the Fafsa, a complete overhaul was the surest route, "rather than trying to undo the existing set of rules and regulations."