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Bill would simplify financial aid application for college

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Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) released a draft bill last week to simplify the process of applying for and receiving federal financial aid to attend college, allow year-round use of Pell Grants, discourage over-borrowing and simplify repayments.

The bill would reduce to a single postcard—called the “Student Aid Short Form”—the questions any student must answer to apply for federal financial aid and inform high school students in their junior year of the amount they’ll receive in federal aid to help pay for college. 

It would also address the problem of some students borrowing too much money, and simplify the options students have to repay their federal loans.  

The act also streamlines federal grant and loan programs to better serve more students more effectively. 

Alexander said: “Every year, 20 million students waste millions of hours and countless dollars on a 100-question application form that only needs to be the size of a postcard. This bill would cut more than 100 questions down to two, and help families get aid information sooner, while protecting taxpayers from lending more money to students than they’re able to repay.”

Bennet said: “While other countries are promoting access to higher education, we are making it harder and harder for people to attain a degree. This bill will simplify the entire financial aid process to promote more access and success. Under a simplified system we can expect more students will enroll and stay in school.”

The senators said that they want to be certain that the short form sends taxpayer dollars solely to those eligible, and so would reduce the form to as close to two questions as possible without creating an opportunity for fraud or abuse.

The Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency Act, or FAST Act, would transform the federal financial aid process by accomplishing the following:

1. Eliminating the Free Application for Financial Student Aid, or FAFSA: The bill would reduce the 10-page form to a postcard that would ask just two questions: What is your family size? And, what was your household income two years ago?

2. Telling families early in the process of what the federal government will provide them in a grant and loan. The bill would create a look-up table to allow students in their junior year of high school to see how much in federal aid they are eligible for as they are start to look at colleges.

3. Streamlining the federal grant and loan programs. The bill would combine two federal grant programs into one Pell grant program and reduce the six different federal loan programs into three: one undergraduate loan program, one graduate loan program, and one parent loan program, resulting in more access for more students. 

4. Enabling students to use Pell grants in a manner that works for them. The bill would restore year-round Pell grant availability and provide flexibility so students can study at their own pace. Both provisions would enable them to complete college sooner.

5. Discouraging over-borrowing. The bill would limit the amount a student is able to borrow based on enrollment. For example, a part-time student would be able to take out a part time loan only.

6. Simplifying repayment options. The bill would streamline complicated repayment programs and create two simple plans, an income based plan and a 10-year repayment plan.

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