This is the second installment in a series examining five bipartisan bills advanced by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on June 22, 2016. The original post summarizing all five bills was posted in Education Matters on June 24, 2016.
The Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act (H.R. 5528), introduced by Reps. Joe Heck (R-NV), Phil Roe (R-TN), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Mark Pocan (D-WI), aims at helping students make timely financial decisions when preparing for college. The bill seeks to implement reforms to the federal student aid process by ensuring that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) continues to be available to future students, simplifying the FAFSA for student aid applicants, and providing more time for student aid administrators to verify the income of those applying for financial aid.
More specifically, H.R. 5528:
- Ensures that students completing the FAFSA are able to use income data from two years prior to the date of application. Known as prior-prior year, this process alleviates a real burden on students since income tax data from the previous year is typically not available at the time these students are completing the FAFSA. The prior-prior year process allows students to receive notification of their expected federal financial assistance months before the start of the school year. For students relying on financial assistance, this lead time in knowing what resources are available is often critical to planning for the school year. H.R. 5528 ensures that this option is available to students by making it a requirement rather than an option.
- Requires the Department of Education to simplify the FAFSA application process by enabling applicant students to import income data through the Internal Revenue Service. This simplification in the application process would help to overcome the complexity of the FAFSA which deters some students from applying and receiving available federal financial assistance. The bill also directs the Secretary of Education to make the FAFSA forms available via a technology tool on mobile devices.
- Provides student aid administrators with additional time to verify the income of federal financial aid applicants, strengthening the integrity of the application process and ensuring that financial aid goes to the most deserving students.
- Allows for earlier determination of maximum Pell Grant awards so that students have accurate aid information as soon as possible.
- Requires the Secretary of Education to submit at least every ten years a report on the needs of limited English proficient students using the FAFSA.
- Designates $3 million of the authorized funds for FAFSA to be used for the provisions of the bill.
H.R. 5528 is supported by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admissions Officers, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, American Indian Higher Education Consortium, American Council on Education, National Association of College & University Business Officers, Association of Public Land-Grant Universities, National Association of Independent Colleges & Universities, National Education Association, American Association of State Colleges & Universities, Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities, Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, Association of American Universities, Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, Association of Governing Boards of Universities & Colleges, American Association of Community Colleges, Association of Community College Trustees, Council for Opportunity in Education, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, and the Association of Jesuit Colleges & Universities.
With an increasingly tight legislative calendar for the remainder of 2016, H.R. 5528 could be taken up by the full House this Congress, but it is unlikely to be considered by the Senate. If the bill does not become law this year, it will help to frame the discussion for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) in the upcoming 115th Congress.