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Simplified Student-Aid System for College Recommended

The federal student financial-aid system needs to be simplified and shift its focus from access to college completion, according to a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based nonprofit.

Figuring out how to wade through the current system of Pell Grants, federal student loans, tuition tax credits, and campus work-study programs can be overwhelming for many families, particularly for first-generation and low-income students. The report, released Tuesday, noted that 750,000 students submitted a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in 2009, but had it returned because the information was insufficient and then failed to resubmit it.

"If the federal student-aid system continues to focus only on increased postsecondary access and not on completion, individuals and the country as a whole will bear economic and social impacts," said Bob Wise, president of the alliance, in a written statement.

The alliance report recommends providing clearer information to families earlier in the K-12 system and simplifying the overall financial-aid process. Policymakers have too often addressed student-aid issues in a fragmented way that made incremental changes to programs. What is needed, instead, is for big-picture reform of the entire system, the report suggests.

More detailed recommendations are expected in January when the alliance will release a related report on reforming the federal student-aid system with a goal of increasing college enrollment and completion.

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