Breaking Down the PROSPER Act: Consumer Information and FAFSA Simplification

December 11, 2017

By Jack Porter, Advocacy Associate 

This is the fourth installment in NCAN's blog series on various proposals contained in the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act, or PROSPER Act. The bill, introduced Dec. 1 by House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), would reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) by streamlining the federal financial aid system, expanding the programs eligible to participate in it with a focus on workforce development, and reducing regulations.


As written, the PROSPER Act would make changes to two components of HEA that have the potential to generate greater access to higher education. The provisions in the bill aimed at providing high-quality consumer information and a more simplified federal aid process could lay the groundwork for a more transparent and navigable higher education system. Moreover, it is feasible that these amendments could spur greater awareness of the federal resources available to students and families in the college search process.

The House Republicans’ bill would replace the College Navigator with a College Dashboard. In an effort to illustrate the pathways and outcomes of students at the institutional and program level, the Dashboard would expand upon the Navigator data and provide consumers with valuable information for perhaps the most important investment of their lives. Students and families would have access to a multifaceted, consumer-tested website that illustrates the outcomes of students who received federal aid. Prospective Dashboard data points at the program level include completion rates, average debt incurred, and median earnings data five and 10 years upon completion.

Simplification of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is another provision outlined in the first draft of the PROSPER Act. The proposed modifications would create a FAFSA mobile app (something the U.S. Education Department already plans to do), raise the household income threshold for the simplified needs test to $100,000 from $50,000, and expand the role of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which expedites the application process. Additionally, it would allow students to continue applying for federal aid with prior-prior year income data.

NCAN’s Take

Providing access to data that will enable prospective college students to better understand how students have fared at institutions and programs they are considering is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. Those data, however, would only represent federal aid recipients. This leaves out 30 percent of the student population, thereby painting an incomplete picture for consumers. NCAN believes that students would be better served by a more complete Dashboard.

NCAN has largely supported efforts to simplify the FAFSA, and firmly believes that adjustments made in this space should prioritize the needs of the lowest-income students. Moreover, NCAN has modeled a Streamlined FAFSA allowing any student whose family receives a federal means-tested benefit to automatically qualify for a zero Expected Family Contribution.

Both of these items could portray postsecondary enrollment as a more realistic opportunity, and in turn foster increased awareness of the federal resources at the fingertips of students and families. FAFSA simplification has the potential to eliminate unnecessary obstacles for college hopefuls and begin reducing the annual figure of untapped federal aid that regularly amounts to tens of billions of dollars. Meaningful and whole data could allow those planning their college experience to steer clear of institutions that have not served students well financially or academically. NCAN feels strongly that if these improvements are made and marketed well, college graduation will rightly appear to be more of an achievable feat than before among the students we serve.

Member Feedback

”Expanding the Simplified Needs Test to a high income level is one step towards simplifying the FAFSA,” according to Alabama Possible. “However, it doesn’t go nearly far enough for our students who are navigating difficult family situations and have limited financial literacy.” 

“The Florida College Access Network supports legislation that helps Florida students enroll into a postsecondary institution and earn a high-quality degree or credential while minimizing student debt.  Reforms to simplify the FAFSA and streamline federal financial aid programs are welcome, so long as they are research-based and encourage college access, affordability, attainment and economic outcomes for all students, particularly for low-income and first-generation students.”

More on the PROSPER Act

NCAN Members Urge Further Examination of HEA Proposals

Breaking Down the PROSPER Act: "One Grant"

Breaking Down the PROSPER Act: "One Work-Study"

Breaking Down the PROSPER Act: "One Loan"

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