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Duncan Takes Steps to Simplify Federal Student Aid Forms

Tomorrow, the U.S. Department of Education will announce plans to help simplify the process for applying for federal student aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

It may not sound like a particularly sexy issue, but a lot of experts think the FAFSA has been a major barrier to student access. In fact, 40 percent of college kids never even file the form, even though most of them are eligible for some form of student aid. (The Chronicle of Higher Education has some excellent background here).

Duncan's plan has three main elements. It would:

1) Rework the online application so that it skips irrelevant questions. For instance, students who are at least 24 or married won't have to provide their parents' financial information, and low-income kids won't be asked about asset information. Part of the plan to rework the online application has already been put in place. Since May, the department has provided students with estimates of their Pell Grant aid student loan eligibility.

2) Eliminate some questions through legislation, possibly including questions relating to assets.

3) Let some students apply for financial aid using IRS information, which would make the process much faster and easier, according to the department. This would start in January, as a pilot program, but could expand in the future.

The issue of FAFSA simplification isn't new. The most recent version of the Higher Education Act called for a slimmed-down form. And Duncan's predecessor, Margaret Spellings, unveiled an online tool to help students figure out how much federal aid they are eligible for.

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