By Richard Vedder
One of the advantages of teaching forever is that as senility sets in, your former students, now brighter than you are, come to the rescue. Brian Fruchey is one such student, a fellow who has aided CCAP in numerous ways, including establishing our initial web site. Brian's work (his day job) involves interaction with student financial aid issues, and he has superb ideas on how to simplify the FAFSA without sacrificing needed information.
Brian points out to me that the overwhelming majority of information on the FAFSA form is already reported to the Internal Revenue Service. Unfortunately, under current law, it is illegal for the IRS to share information with other government agencies, like the U.S. Department of Education. What if there was a little box on the 1040 Form, similar to the box asking whether you want to devote money to presidential campaigns, allowing a person to permit the IRS to give data to the Department of Education for college financial aid purposes? The IRS could report the data to the Education Department and the information could be electronically entered into a FAFSA form. Or, have a short FAFSA form for those who check a box on that form allowing IRS to provide the Department of Education with income tax data (a copy of the form would be sent electronically to IRS). To be sure, there are a few things that require information, such as the number of students in a family attending college, and possibly some financial asset questions. I am already uneasy, however, about those financial asset questions (which are of secondary importance in determining aid) since they are used to "tax" those who have prudently saved for college as opposed to those who have spent irresponsibly and not saved at all. I suspect the national savings rate has been reduced by our current financial aid policies.
The FAFSA form could be reduced to a postcard, with just a few questions about family members attending college. A significant "access" obstacle would be removed. No privacy would be violated, as the information in question is already provided by individuals, and permission is required before the information is released.