Making College More Affordable for More Americans & Improving College Choice

Making College More Affordable for More Americans & Improving College Choice

March 29, 2016

The U.S. Education Department is taking steps to further implement President Obama's plan announced last fall to help more Americans pay for college.

The President's blueprint unveiled last September aims to make it easier to get federal student aid by streamlining the process of submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

In a Federal Register announcement published today, the Department invites public comment on how it plans to further reduce the burden of collecting application information for federal student aid.

"As the President has said, no young person in America should be priced out of college," said U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell. "A higher education is one of the most important investments Americans can make in their future. We want to make it easier than ever before to apply for and access federal grants and loans."

Filling out the FAFSA—at no cost—opens the door for students to receive potentially thousands of dollars in federal aid. Yet each year, about two million Pell-eligible students do not fill out the FAFSA—and millions more may have enrolled in college had they known that aid were available.

To further streamline and simplify the FAFSA, the President announced a plan that will allow students and families to apply for financial aid earlier—starting in October, as the college application process gets underway—rather than in January.

In addition, most students and families filling out the FAFSA will be able to electronically retrieve tax information filed for an earlier year, rather than waiting until tax season to complete their applications. Commonly referred to as "prior-prior" year (PPY) data, this will offer several important benefits, including:

  • Earlier information: Students and families may find out about their aid eligibility the same time many high school students are searching for and applying to colleges.
  • Simpler applications: More students and families will be able to complete their FAFSA using information retrieved electronically directly from the IRS because they had filed their 2015 taxes returns months earlier.
  • More students receiving Pell Grants and other aid: Over the next several years, the simpler FAFSA filing process could encourage hundreds of thousands of additional students to apply for and receive the aid they are eligible for—and enroll in college.
  • Reduced burden on colleges: In recent years, colleges and universities have spent as many as 3 million total hours each year verifying FAFSA information, including income and other tax return data. These colleges and universities will be able to avoid much of the burden of verifying tax return information when students apply using data retrieved directly from the IRS.

Learning about financial aid eligibility earlier in the college application and decision process will enable students and families to determine the true cost of attending college—taking available financial aid into account—and make more informed decisions as they are searching for, applying to, and choosing colleges.

Together with the new College Scorecard—which is redesigned to provide the clearest, most accessible, and most reliable national data on cost, graduation, debt, and post-college earnings—students will have valuable information to choose the right college for them.