January 14, 2009
During his confirmation hearing Tuesday, Arne Duncan, Obama's appointee for Education Secretary, disclosed broad ideas but few specific plans for education in America. Much of the hearing before the U.S. Senate focused on elementary and secondary education, though questions related to paying for college did surface. Duncan's primary focuses appear to be on college access and college affordability, moving away from the emphasis on accountability the nation has seen under Margaret Spellings, the current Secretary of Education.
According to coverage by The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, Duncan's primary goal related to college aid is to guarantee access to student loans for everyone attending college. Taking up one aspect of Spellings' policy, he also expressed an interest in simplifying the FAFSA to make applying for federal student financial aid more enticing for college students. Additionally, Duncan pledged to work towards the goals of increasing Federal Pell Grants and instituting the $4,000 education tax credit that made up a major part of Obama's campaign platform.
Congress may already be taking steps towards some of these goals in drafting the next economic stimulus package. Reports have abounded this week that plans are in the works to increase the maximum available Pell Grant by $500 and to consolidate two existing federal higher education tax options into one $3,000 tax credit for higher education expenses.
June 24, 2009
As part of his campaign's focus on education, President Obama pledged his administration would address issues of the financial aid application process, such as the length and complexity of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has previewed some of the administration's proposed changes, with a formal announcement expected today. While not as sweeping as the two-page FAFSA EZ Congress already mandated when renewing the Higher Education Act last year, these changes are still a step towards simpler financial aid applications.
Changes will be rolled out in phases, with the first phase being a smarter FAFSA on the Web. Rather than forcing students to read fine print to determine whether they need to provide information requested by each question, as of next January, the application will use the information students have provided to determine which questions they need to answer. Students with independent status will not be shown the questions about parental income and low-income students will not be shown certain questions about assets that they don't need to complete. This is a fairly simple step to save time and hassle, and eliminate some of the barriers that keep students most likely to be eligible for federal grant programs from applying.
A pilot program has also been initaited to test the feasibility of allowing students to access their tax information online to complete the FAFSA. If successful, it could be expanded to all users, saving headaches involved in finding their 1040s, W2s and related forms, then scouring each for the correct lines to copy into the FAFSA.
Duncan also stated that the administration will seek permission from Congress to begin taking steps that could eventually result in eliminating the FAFSA entirely and relying solely on tax information to apply for federal student financial aid. While not explicitly stated by Duncan, it could be an end result of his request to Congress to remove questions from the FAFSA that do not pertain to information reported to the IRS on a student's (or their parents') 1040. Once the complicated need analysis formula of the FAFSA has been set aside in favor of this simplified process, the idea of allowing students to apply for aid by checking a box on their tax return seems almost within reach.
July 3, 2012
In the epic battle between quality versus quantity, it's the former that usually prevails but Arne Duncan has a slightly different proposal for soon-to-be college students: increase the quantity of schools you consider in order to find the best quality fit.
Though the annual Higher Education Research Institute survey reported that students are already employing that approach (just 12 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen applied to only one college in 2011), Education Secretary Duncan believes that too many students are making their college choices based on distance from home rather than price, majors and other factors vital to college completion and future success. He feels that if students apply to more schools and compare financial aid packages, they'll find the school and program that's right for them. But not everyone is buying into his "shop around" proposal. Lloyd Thacker, director of the admissions reform group Education Conservancy, said, "The problem with the admissions process is it's become too much like a transaction or consumer process, and less like an investment in education ... I'm not saying what he's doing is necessarily wrong but you need to be very thoughtful that good intentions are tied to sound research.”
Check out the full Inside Higher Ed article here and let us know what you think. Are you ready to go shopping with Duncan or will you be taking a different approach when applying to college?
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