Yes, the FAFSA could be only two questions long

Students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) may spend less time worrying as they fill out the form in coming years.

The beginning of every new year comes with the unveiling of the FAFSA and many students realize it is yet again time to fill out the 108-question application. In spite of the inherent hassle, it’s a necessary part of the love-hate relationship students have with a process that can provide Pell grants of up to $5,730.

However, two senators have introduced a bill that could dramatically transform the FAFSA from the traditional one many students know.  

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado introduced a plan to reduce the current application down to two simple questions that could make FAFSA fit on a postcard.

If the legislation passes, students could see a revamped application that only asks for their household income two years prior and their family size. As explained in an article by the American Enterprise Institute, the “prior-prior” income lets students apply earlier and know ahead of time the amount of grant aid they’ll receive.

While the application has helped make college a reality for many students, it has been anything but concise. Streamlining the application to ask the necessary minimum makes sense statistically and could help make the FAFSA more approachable for those who don’t complete it.

Such downsizing might call for skepticism and has already received criticism for not solving the problem of college affordability and student debt. 

However, a simpler application makes it easier for students to have access to federal financial aid. 

In a recent New York Times op-ed explaining their proposal, Alexander and Bennet referenced a study conducted by professors from the University of Michigan and Columbia University that showed most of the questions on the FAFSA don’t actually determine financial aid. 

The findings, obtained by professors Susan Dynarski and Judith Scott-Clayton and elaborated on in the New York Times’ Upshot section, revealed the differences in aid eligibility based on the longer FAFSA and one with fewer questions are quite small. For instance, 74 percent of students’ Pell grant aid wouldn’t change and 91 percent would see a change of fewer than $500. 

Of course, even what is considered a small change could mean having extra grant aid for a textbook. 

However, doing away with 90 percent of the questions would alter the average Pell grant by just $54 a year. While stripping the FAFSA results in some differences, it could make for a more accessible application for students to fill out.

As discussed in the Upshot article, an experiment by H&R Block found a correlation between receiving help with filling out the application and an increase in college enrollment among low-income high school students. The conclusion, as the article explained, is that students should receive more assistance with the FAFSA or the application itself should be simplified. 

A shorter FAFSA would be a better deal for the approximately 22 million students submitting applications, which was the amount in the 2012-13 year according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. 

Such a drastic update to the lengthy form may be difficult to imagine. However, it’s one that can reduce the stress associated with the application and can soften the step toward federal aid many students need. 

Isabelle Cavazos is a junior majoring in English and Spanish.