Lawmakers seek to simplify FAFSA, ETSU official supports move

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Oct 23, 2019 at 7:22 PM

U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Doug Jones, D-Ala., introduced legislation Tuesday to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid process.

Alexander, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the FAFSA, which nearly 20 million families fill out every year for federal student aid, is too complicated. He said it’s “one of the biggest challenges low-income students who want to go to college face” and hopes to see the 108-question form reduced to at least 30 questions through the FAFSA Simplification Act.

“Former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told me that Tennessee has the highest rate of filling out the FAFSA, but it is still the single biggest impediment to more students enrolling in Tennessee Promise, our state’s free, two-year community college program,” Alexander said. “This bill will simplify the FAFSA and reduce the number of questions to 18-30 basic questions about a student, their family and their plans for college.

“It will also greatly reduce the need for the burdensome verification process that stops a student’s Pell grant payment while their family scrambles to submit their federal tax information, and will allow students as young as middle school to easily learn about their likely Pell grant award, so they can begin to plan for college.”

Simplifying the FAFSA process has been a goal of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle since a committee hearing in 2014 when legislators heard from witnesses that the FAFSA should be made more comprehensive.

In 2015, Alexander, along with Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Angus King, I-Maine; Mike Enzi; R-Wyo.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; introduced legislation to reduce the number of questions to two. Over the years since then, the legislation has been revised to 18-30 questions.

Since lawmakers have brought up concerns about the process and how to simplify it, university officials across the state and nation have lauded moves to condense the forms. East Tennessee State University officials have largely been supportive of simplifying the forms, as well.

“Completing the FAFSA is the first step for thousands of incoming and returning Tennessee college students to understanding what options might be available for financial assistance,” ETSU Associate Director of Student Financial Aid Blake Hopson said. “We are supportive of any actions that would better facilitate the application process for students and families.”