FAFSA reforms are long overdue

Affording a college education would be impossible without state or federal aid for many students. Just to access this aid, however, students had to fill out the lengthy and confusing Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in the past.

The FAFSA, in need of reform for some time, may get it if Congress approves a new Department of Education (DOE) plan.

According to U.S. News and World Report, as many as one million students fail to complete the form each year, so simplifying FAFSA is a common sense idea.

However, some critics warn that simplifying the form will make it easier for some parents to hide income and harder for states to know if students qualify for state financial aid.

The fact is, many questions could be cut from FAFSA without reducing the amount of information the government gets because many of the questions are repetitive. By removing unnecessary questions, the DOE plans on shortening the six-page form by 22 questions.

The most complicated part of the form is the tax section, where students have little or no experience. If Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s plan is approved, the DOE will be able to access the necessary tax information directly from the Internal Revenue Service.

In addition, the DOE will only need to know a student’s gross income and the student will no longer have to list their assets. Critics worry that requiring less information will make it easier for families that don’t need financial aid to cheat the system.

There are some students who have very low incomes but so many assets that they don’t really need federal financial aid. However, Billie Jo Hamilton, director of Financial Aid, estimated that only 1 or 2 percent of students would fit into this category.

The risk of simplifying the form is still better than the current situation, where millions of students are unable to get the money they need for a college education simply because of an incomprehensible form.

It is a shame that these changes have not been made already. It may not help those who were blocked from pursuing a higher education in the past, but Congress would best serve students by allowing the DOE to simplify FAFSA.