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Simplification is the Word of the Day

Is consensus emerging on some key federal higher education policy issues? It looks that way, if the bi-partisan bill to be introduced today by Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Michael Bennet, is any indication. From what we can glean from the Senators’ op-ed in the New York Times (which echoes sentiments expressed at recent hearings held by members of both parties in both Chambers of Congress), simplification is the word of the day:  simplifying the financial aid process by eliminating the FAFSA, moving to one grant and one loan, reducing the number of loan repayment options, and more.

While the concept of simplification is, well, simple, the devil (as always) is in the details.  We’ll be following along as more details are revealed around this bill and others—feel free to follow along below. And in the coming days and weeks, we’ll dig into the details and put our thoughts here on EdCentral.

Updates by Rachel FishmanOwen PhillipsClare McCann, and Ross van der Linde:

11:45 AM From 108 Questions to Just Two 

Although there are several important components to the draft text introduced by Senators Alexander and Bennet, simplification of the FAFSA is likely to attract the most attention. This is the 108-question form used by more than 20 million students every year to apply for financial aid. The senators explain in their New York Times piece that eliminating the vast majority of these questions could help simplify the application process for students, while changing grant awards only minimally:

A National Bureau of Economic Research study says that helping students and families fill out the application significantly increases college enrollment and success. So there is a simple solution: eliminate almost all of the 108 questions the federal government currently asks. They are unnecessary.

Susan Dynarski, a professor at the University of Michigan, and Judith Scott-Clayton, an assistant professor at Columbia University, have demonstrated that eliminating 90 percent of the application’s questions would change the average Pell grant amount by only $54 a year. They maintain that asking only two questions would give the government virtually all of the information it needs to ensure that federal aid is allocated according to need: What is your family size? And what was your household income two years ago?


12:00 PM Need Some Background Info? Check Out Our Report

In January 2013, New America's Education Policy Program published Rebalancing Resources and Incentives in Federal Student Aid that touched on many of the ideas announced today -- simplifying the FAFSA, reinstating year-round Pell, eliminating the Subsidized Stafford in-school interest benefit, creating a one grant-one loan-one repayment system, and much more. Read the full report here.
12:01 PM Press Conference on Capitol Hill Gets Underway

Our policy analyst Rachel Fishman is there, and the hashtag being used for the event is #FASTAct.



12:05 PM What Happens When You Get Rid of 106 Questions on the FAFSA? Not Much, Apparently


12:15 PM A Conversation About a FAFSA-less Future


12:16 PM Looking Ahead to HEA Reauthorization

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported today that Senate Democrats plan to release a draft Higher Education Act reauthorization bill next week.

Senate Democrats are poised to introduce a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act that would create a unit-record system for tracking individual students, allow borrowers to refinance their student-loan debt, and reverse some recent cuts in the Pell Grant program, according to several sources who have previewed a draft of the measure.

The bill, which lawmakers are expected to introduce next week, would also crack down on for-profit colleges, make the accreditation process more transparent, and create grant programs to encourage innovation and dual enrollment, the sources said.


12:32 Who's Against FAFSA Simplification? 


12:34 PM There's Lots to Like for Community Colleges...



12:37 PM Without FAFSA, How to Check Dependency Status



12:40 PM This Legislation May Also Address FAFSA Re-filing Issues


12:45 PM Read the Fine Print: How to Pay For Year-Round Pell



12:48 PM Not All Student Debt Crises Are Created Equal


12:55 PM Reminder That This Legislation May Not Be the Final Product