Educators, advocates, Hill staffers, and students gathered in Washington, DC, earlier this month to learn more about efforts by the National College Access Network (NCAN) to simplify the Federal Application for Free Student Aid (FAFSA).
The overarching goal of this new streamlined FAFSA is simple — stop making low-income students repeatedly prove that they are low-income. The NCAN report, Half the FASFA: Cutting the Red Tape to Postsecondary Aid, includes three potential pathways to shorten the FAFSA.
For example, on one track, once a student has confirmed that their family earns a means-tested benefit such as SNAP (food assistance) or TANF (cash assistance), they are automatically sent to the signature portion of the form.
During the #FixFAFSA event, NCAN’s Carrie Warick — along with student panelists and college access experts — made the case that using such methods to streamline FAFSA would be beneficial for all those involved in the transition to postsecondary education.
Two main themes were repeated throughout the event: (1) simplicity is key for completion, and (2) counselors and advisors are critical in providing necessary FAFSA assistance to students.
Given those realities, event attendees agreed it is critical counselors receive the right information to transmit to their students. For counselors to provide the best service and for students to access the aid they deserve, streamlining the FAFSA must be a federal priority.
Bryce Norwood, a student at James Madison University (VA), began the day with a strong proclamation: “Without an advisor, my whole life would be completely different. I wouldn’t have any of the opportunities I have today without my [college access] team.”
Carlos Jimenez-Vasquez, of Appalachian State University (NC), said his college access advisors were crucial because they didn’t focus solely on FAFSA or student aid — they “pushed me to take the whole college process more seriously.”
Most students receive FASFA assistance from their counselors at school — so the language in the FAFSA must be student-friendly, but counselors need all the information to guide their students. Simplifying the FAFSA would allow advisors to spend less time wading through a confusing electronic system and more time counseling students on their futures, noted NACAC member Stacy Lightfoot, with the Public Education Foundation in Chattanooga, .
As Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of the College Success Foundation (WA), pointed out: “We haven’t made this process any less difficult in over 30 years — it’s time.”
For tweets and stories about #FixFAFSA day, check out the NCAN storify.
Liz Glaser is NACAC’s government relations manager. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.