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Calls to Simplify Federal Financial Aid Process Grow

Calling the process to apply for federal financial aid complex, redundant, and poorly timed, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has joined the push for FAFSA reform.

The Seattle-based nonprofit maintains that the difficulty in completing the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid hits disadvantaged students especially hard and creates a barrier to higher education in a new policy paper released last week.  (The Gates foundation supports coverage of the implementation of college- and career-ready standards in Education Week.)

With more than 100 questions, the FAFSA can be daunting and nearly two million students who are eligible for federal aid do not apply, according to the paper. To simply the process, the Gates Foundation proposes three recommendations:

1. Allow students without complex financial situations to fill out shorter forms;

2. Have tax information that families have already supplied to the Internal Revenue Service be used on the FAFSA;

3. Start the application sooner by letting students use tax information from two years earlier rather than the prior year.

Ultimately, the foundation's goal is to eliminate the FAFSA altogether and instead determine student eligibility for financial aid based on their family's income tax filing.

Pressure to simplify the financial aid process is growing.

Last year, several organizations, including the American Council on Education, urged the administration to change the timeline for the FAFSA so students could apply earlier. Lawmakers are also considering ways to streamline the application and loan process as it renews the Higher Education Act. 

College costs top the list of concerns for incoming students and are a major source of stress, a survey out earlier this month from Ohio State revealed.

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