U.S. Senators held discussions last Thursday regarding simplifying the federal student loan process.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held meetings last Thursday to continue discussing potential changes to the education bill which were first brought up towards the end of the year. Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act usually means changes to the financial aid system, impacting students looking to attend post-secondary school. In this case, the new changes are looking to reduce the burden and complexity faced by students and administrators during the application process.
Committee Chairman Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a big proponent of simplifying federal loan and grant applications, introduced the legislation during the last Congress. In his words, the bill would “combine two federal grant programs into one grant program and reduce five federal loan programs into three.”
Another bold change to the federal student loan process is the simplified repayment options for borrowers. Under the new proposed plan, students choose between “two simple plans – an income-based plan and a 10-year repayment plan.”
The complexity of the federal loan and grant application process cannot be overstated. The current FAFSA forms ask 108 questions about borrowers, their financial situation, demographic information, and a host of other information. Senator Alexander would like to see a 25-question form using pre-existing government databases.
Additionally, simplifying the loan application process would most likely lead to better financial aid coverage overall. For instance, last year, students failed to claim over $20 billion in available government aid to pay for higher education.
While there are plenty of proponents on board with simplification, there is also opposition to the proposal.
There are some concerns from the minority Democrats, especially Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). She urged her fellow lawmakers to remember that “simplification cannot mean elimination” of student benefits, especially since “college cost continues to rise.” Many prospective students fail to understand and successfully navigate the loan repayment process long after their initial application. Senator Murray wants students to get help at every stage of the process: application, enrollment, and post-graduation. She told the committee that there is a lot of work to be done “helping enrolled students understand the complex maze of eligibility requirements for their financial aid.”
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