Report asks to ease aid process

by Cati Vanden Breul

The government is aiming to make the financial aid process simpler and more effective for students.

In 2004, Congress asked its Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance to look at whether the financial aid process could be made easier and more reasonable for students, said Nicole Barry, associate staff director for the committee.

The committee had a year to conduct the study and recently released a report containing 10 recommendations to Congress.

“We’re trying to have a more-systematic approach. Right now, we still have some kids slipping through the cracks,” Barry said.

One of the recommendations would get information about financial aid out to parents and students starting as early as middle school.

“We want to make them aware of the availability of aid in order to positively influence their decision on whether or not to attend college,” Barry said.

The U.S. Department of Education is working with universities around the country to develop ways to inform prospective students about financial aid options early in their high school careers, she said.

The committee said it also hopes to increase the number of students automatically eligible to receive the maximum Pell Grant award.

Right now, dependent students whose families make less than $15,000 a year are

automatically considered for the maximum Pell Grant. If Congress accepts the committee’s recommendation, the income cutoff will increase to $25,000 a year.

Becoming familiar with the financial aid process takes time, University junior Jasper Kruggel said.

“It’s kind of a learning process,” Kruggel said.

He said filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid was a little confusing the first time, but after three years, it has become routine.

But not everything works like clockwork.

“Right now, I’m having a hassle, because I took a semester off,” Kruggel said.

He said financial aid recipients have to fill out forms every time they return to school from taking time off.

But first-year accounting student Beth Kiecker said the student aid process has been easy for her.

“I’ve never had a problem with it,” Kiecker said.

“You just fill out the FAFSA, and you are set.”

Jennifer Folz, a first-year architecture student, said she applied late and was still able to receive aid.

“I only applied three months ago, and it’s been fine,” Folz said.

But the students all agreed making the process simpler is a good idea.

The committee recommended a simpler paper FAFSA form that would be more understandable for students and would maximize the number of students who could use the form, Barry said.

The report also asked Congress to raise the income protection allowance, which is the amount students can earn before the money counts toward calculating their financial aid.

“We think these are very good recommendations that will make a positive difference in the (financial aid) access problem,” Barry said.