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Education Secretary DeVos Praises Senate Action on FAFSA Legislation

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has praised a Senate committee for moving forward with legislation to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

DeVos’ praise followed a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee about reauthorizing the Higher Education Act and proposals for simplifying the aid application. The hearing, led by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., featured testimonies from Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), among other key education professionals and advocates.

“The Higher Education Act is a child of the 1960s, and it’s time to recraft the HEA to match the realities of today and the opportunities of tomorrow,” DeVos said in a press statement. “I applaud Chairman Alexander for his continued leadership in promoting bold reforms, and I share Senator [Patty] Murray’s sentiment that we must address the big issues. I look forward to working with the committee and the entire Congress to complete this important work and send a student-centric, forward-looking bill to the president’s desk.”

DeVos acknowledged that Washington officials have been talking about simplifying the FAFSA application process for years. With the introduction of the Simple FAFSA Act of 2017 on Nov. 16, she says, “Now is the time for action.”

“Students and schools have demanded and truly deserve a better, simpler process,” DeVos added.

Earlier this month, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., introduced the Simple FAFSA legislation to help make it easier for college-going students to access the billions of dollars of federal aid money available to them.

Several provisions in the bill call for the Education Department to make the FAFSA available in 11 foreign languages and for the secretary to standardize financial aid letters across all institutions receiving Title IV funding.

A provision to use the previous year’s existing tax data from the Internal Revenue Service’s Data Retrieval Tool is a highlight of the legislation and will allow students to complete their FAFSA in less time.

“With today’s technology, we no longer need to make the tradeoff between simplification and accuracy, as we’ve had to do in the past,” said Draeger during his hearing testimony. “By relying on timing and technology, NASFAA believes Congress can dramatically reduce the number of questions for all applicants, but most of all for low-income students.”

In another speech to financial aid professionals attending a conference in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday, DeVos announced that the Education Department will roll out a mobile app for FAFSA. She recalled that innovations in technology allow for students to order food, get a ride home or check a bank account, and noted that FAFSA should keep up with “these commonplace activities,” she shared with the group. “We will make the financial aid process modern, streamlined, more accessible and simply easier for students – and you.”

The initiative also includes increasing cyber-security to protect students’ personal data.

While DeVos said the office of Federal Student Aid is rethinking how it should operate, she challenged financial aid officers and educators to modernize their own financial aid infrastructure and to revamp the ways they connect with students.

“Students should be able to complete their FAFSA easily on their phones and in one sitting,” she said. “They should receive expert, tailored advice about their options. It’s called ‘student aid,’ after all.”

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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