NCAN Expands FAFSA Simplification Advocacy

May 16, 2016

In April, the National College Access Network received a $1,020,246 grant over 18 months from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that will enable more low-income students to take advantage of federal financial aid for college and make higher education more affordable for them. The grant will provide NCAN the opportunity to support the successful implementation of Early FAFSA and build consensus for additional FAFSA simplification.

“We are committed to policy reform to benefit low-income students as part of our core strategies and are honored the Gates Foundation believes in NCAN’s FAFSA simplification strategy,” said Kim Cook, NCAN executive director. “This financial commitment will help ensure more students apply for and receive the aid they need to enter and complete postsecondary education.”

The grant will provide additional support to a current project, Implementing FAFSA Simplification, which runs through September 2016. The latest funding will focus on two strategies:

  1. Ensuring that Early FAFSA rolls out smoothly and attracts significantly more low-income applicants.
  2. Intensifying and extending FAFSA reform advocacy to make the process easier for low-income students, thereby further increasing participation in the Pell Grant program.

Fulfilling the Promise of “Early FAFSA”
Changing both the tax year used for completing the FAFSA as well as moving up the completion window are huge victories for students but require thousands of individuals who support FAFSA completion around the country to change entrenched processes. NCAN will continue its role as convener of the professional organizations implementing Early FAFSA to ensure a smooth roll out among FAFSA stakeholders and will provide funds to National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) and National Association for College Admission Counseling to conduct professional development for their members. NCAN will also continue to share information with its members and others in the field about how best to implement Early FAFSA.

Intensifying and Extending FAFSA Reform Advocacy
Many stakeholders agree that FAFSA reform is a priority, but the challenge is finding consensus for a specific new federal aid methodology, which currently includes dozens of data points. To build support for a new streamlined methodology, NCAN will give low-income students, families, and NCAN members in several cities the opportunity to test it in a new FAFSA prototype to ensure it truly is easier than the current process. The streamlined methodology reflects aspects of recommendations from many organizations, including NASFAA, the White House, the Gates Foundation, the Urban Institute, numerous researchers, and U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

Through focus group testing of the prototype, NCAN will gain additional information to support the streamlined methodology, allowing NCAN to confidently recommend and advocate for a new FAFSA that better serves students while still meeting the needs of stakeholders such as institutions and aid administrators. User testing of the prototype will also respond to a request from Congressional staff to provide FAFSA simplification ideas backed up by data.

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