The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
The undersigned organizations representing students, scholarship providers, and college administrators, advocates for college access and completion, and policy organizations write to urge you to further simplify the college financial aid process for millions of students and their families by directing the Secretary of Education to base federal student aid eligibility on the tax data that are available when students typically apply to college. Congress specifically authorized the Secretary of Education to address this long-standing problem in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, and there is strong bipartisan support for simplifying the aid application process.
Your Administration has already made the process much faster and easier for many students, but for millions more the process remains far too complicated and time-consuming. Moreover, students and families still cannot apply for aid until after typical college application deadlines, because the federal aid application requires tax information that is not yet available. We urge you to announce in your State of the Union address next month that you are correcting this problem.
One of the primary ways your Administration has greatly simplified the federal aid application process is by letting students and parents electronically transfer their tax information into the online Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). By using the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), applicants can skip up to 20 high-stakes FAFSA questions. However, due to major timing obstacles, millions of students are not able to benefit from this simplified process. This is because the FAFSA currently requires tax data for a calendar year that has not yet ended or is barely over when college applications are typically due. The FAFSA goes online on January 1, but the DRT that makes it much easier to complete is not available until early February, and applicants who have not yet filed their taxes cannot use the DRT. Meanwhile, the IRS tax filing deadline is not until April 15, which is after the application deadlines for dozens of state grants and many scholarships from colleges and other sources.
Basing federal aid eligibility on already available tax data will solve these timing problems. By letting students find out what federal aid they are eligible for before college application deadlines, it will help them make more informed decisions about where to apply and what they can afford, understand that federal dollars will follow them wherever they attend, and take more time to consider and apply to multiple colleges. This timing correction will also increase students’ odds of getting needed aid by making it easier to meet deadlines for non-federal grants and scholarships and receive the aid they qualify for. Students using the DRT are less likely to be selected for paperwork-intensive FAFSA “verification” procedures that cause delays and obstacles to receiving aid. Reducing the need for verification also lowers administrative burdens for colleges...Read more.