Student Aid Simplification: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

36 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2012

See all articles by Susan M. Dynarski

Susan M. Dynarski

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Education

Mark Wiederspan

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: February 2012

Abstract

Each year, fourteen million households seeking federal aid for college complete a detailed questionnaire about their finances, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). At 116 questions, the FAFSA is almost as long as IRS Form 1040 and substantially longer than Forms 1040EZ and 1040A. Aid for college is intended to increase college attendance by reducing its price and loosening liquidity constraints. Economic theory, empirical evidence and common sense suggest that complexity in aid could undermine its ability to affect schooling decisions. In 2006, Dynarski and Scott-Clayton published an analysis of complexity in the aid system that generated considerable discussion in academic and policy circles. Over the next few years, complexity in the aid system drew the attention of the media, advocacy groups, presidential candidates, the National Economic Council and the Council of Economic Advisers. A flurry of legislative and agency activity followed. In this article, we provide a five-year retrospective of what has changed in the aid application process, what has not, and the possibilities for future reform.

Suggested Citation

Dynarski, Susan M. and Wiederspan, Mark, Student Aid Simplification: Looking Back and Looking Ahead (February 2012). NBER Working Paper No. w17834. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2002586

Susan M. Dynarski (Contact Author)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy ( email )

735 South State Street, Weill Hall
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Education ( email )

610 East University Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1259
United States

Mark Wiederspan

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

No Address Available

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