Dean Bridget Long testified today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) in a hearing entitled Time to Finish Fixing the FAFSA. Long was joined as a witness by Kim Cook, executive director of National College Access Network; Judith Scott-Clayton, assistant professor of economics and education at Columbia University; Rachelle Feldman, associate provost and director for scholarships and student aid at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Kristin Hultquist, founding partner of HCM Strategists.
A summary of Dean Long's testimony follows:
Chairman Alexander, Senator Murray, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. My testimony aims to provide information on concerns about the FAFSA and what could be done to improve the financial aid system.
Financial aid has a positive impact on college access, persistence, and degree completion, but a major impediment for many students, particularly those from low-income families, is the complexity of the college financial aid system.
- The complexity of our financial aid process and policies results in the system not being as effective as it could be in supporting college opportunity.
- There is also confusion about how to renew financial aid and award rules, resulting in lost or reduced support to help students persist in college.
- There are many negative consequences from having a complicated financial aid system.
Simplification is a power policy tool.
- Interventions to simplify the FAFSA have had meaningful, positive impacts on college outcomes.
- For example, Bettinger et al. (2012) found that that streamlining and providing assistance with the FAFSA had a substantial positive impact on the likelihood of submitting an aid application, enrolling in college, and persisting towards a degree.
While there have been recent improvements to the FAFSA, these efforts do not fully address the needs of many students, and there is still significant room for improvement.
- Recent research concludes that additional information and support are still needed to help students even after the recent FAFSA improvements (Bettinger, Long, and Lee, 2020).
- The most recent experience of students attempting to navigate the higher education experience during the COVID-19 pandemic also underscores the need for additional reform to the FAFSA and financial aid system.
Additional Ways to Improve the Effectiveness of our Financial Aid System
- Improve the need analysis calculation to more accurately reflect the financial situations of most college students.
- Proactively disseminate clear information with families early and often.
- Use and enable multiple pathways for families to complete the aid application process.
- Minimize the burden on families when completing the FAFSA.
- Bolster the aid that is available to students, especially during the current dire circumstances of the pandemic.
* Dean and Saris Professor of Education and Economics, Harvard Graduate School of Education. The views expressed are those of the author and should not be attributed to Harvard University.