When Simplification May Be Too Simplistic

On August 27, the Denver Business Journal ran an article on proposed legislation that will dramatically overhaul the application for federal student aid. The article opens with the following two paragraphs:

“Several Colorado universities are getting behind a recent bipartisan bill zeroing in on speeding up the financial aid application process.

“The bill—proposed by Sens. Michael Bennett, D-Colorado, and Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee—would cut down the current 10-page, 108-question Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to a single-page, two-question form.”

The university leaders who are endorsing the bill make the indisputable point that a 10-page form that includes 108 questions is almost certainly keeping some students from applying for federal student aid and therefore from applying to or enrolling in their institutions. Furthermore, the form is likely to be most intimidating to those prospective students who need to aid the most in order to enroll—students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who may be the first in their families to consider attending college.

That said, one wonders how a ten-page form that includes 108 questions can be reduced to a single page that includes just two questions without, in effect, rendering the application almost meaningless. I suspect that although the basic form might be reduced so dramatically, some of the information on the current form is going to have to be gathered through the students’ completing other, subsequently provided forms. Perhaps that’s okay because it will reduce the intimidating size and scope of the initial form and thereby encourage applications and enrollment. But I also suspect that the ten-page form resulted from some effort to do all of the necessary data-gathering through a single instrument—that the now onerous-looking application actually may have resulted from an effort to streamline a multi-step process.

A revised form that represents an attempt to reach some proverbial “happy medium” between the all-inclusive form and the proposed bare-bones alternative probably wouldn’t get as much media attention, but I suspect that it might be more workable.


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