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Federal college aid form to be streamlined

Obama administration officials say the goal is to boost enrollment among low- and middle-income students.

June 25, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to simplify the federal college aid form, which at 153 questions drives millions of families to give up before they finish it.

President Obama wants to make the form more user-friendly as part of a sweeping plan to put higher education within reach of more students.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who announced the changes at the White House on Wednesday along with Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas Shulman, said the goal is to boost college enrollment among low- and middle-income students.

Both men described the current form as a nightmare. Duncan said it has prevented hundreds of thousands of students from going to college because they could not navigate the form and pursue aid. Shulman described it as "an endurance test for students and their families."

The proposed change comes as demand for aid is rising.

Last year, after the recession had begun, the number of applications rose by 12% to more than 16 million, according to the Education Department. Detailed estimates are not yet available for last year, but of all full-time college undergraduates in 2007, 58% applied for aid, and 47% received it.

The administration is taking three steps to simplify the form, which some consider more complicated than a tax return:

* Shorten and streamline the online application, reducing the number of screens by about two-thirds.

* Create a Web application to use tax data families have already submitted to the IRS, helping to eliminate confusion in answering questions.

* Ask Congress to pass legislation that removes more than half of the financial questions on the form.

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