Witnesses Urge Congress to Streamline, Simplify Federal Student Aid System
The Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development, chaired by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), held a hearing today to discuss reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), focusing on ways to streamline and simplify federal student aid.
“Over the years, the federal student aid system has become too complex,” Chairman Guthrie said. “Students and their families are forced to navigate six different types of federal student loans, nine different repayment plans, eight different forgiveness programs, and 32 deferment and forbearance options — each with its own rules and requirements … We need to get rid of the complexity. We need to eliminate the confusion students face.”
Witnesses agreed — highlighting the importance of simplifying, updating, and improving federal student aid so students have access to an affordable postsecondary education.
JoEllen Soucier has worked as a financial aid administrator and currently serves as the executive director of financial aid for the Houston Community College System. Through the years, she said, she watched as the student aid process grew more complex.
“I have seen the complexity of the student application process and the administration of federal financial aid programs increase greatly over the past 25 years,” she said. “The entire process from application to repayment has become an intricate puzzle that only a seasoned professional, like myself, can navigate and understand.”
Soucier said reauthorizing HEA provides an opportunity to make positive improvements that will help students and their families navigate the student aid process.
“Done in a deliberate, careful way, moving toward simplification and streamlining of the entire system will have a positive impact on students, families, financial aid administrators, educators, and the community,” she said.
Education policy expert Kristin Hultquist (formerly Conklin) explained how the student aid system is outdated and must be reformed to better accommodate the unique needs of contemporary students.
“Today’s students are older, they juggle work and family while attending school part time, and 47 percent support themselves financially, with 42 percent living in poverty,” Hultquist said. “A simplified federal financial aid system needs to be seen as part of the solution for a nation that needs many more skilled graduates, a stronger middle class and more opportunity.”
Matthew M. Chingos, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, explained how many previous student aid reforms have not been entirely effective because they do not target the students who need help the most.
“The prevailing media narrative of a broad-based student loan crisis is problematic because it leads to the wrong policy solutions by focusing on all borrowers — and especially borrowers with the most debt — rather than on those who most need the help,” he said. “The current programs, which resulted from well-intentioned policy changes over many years, need to be streamlined and returned to their core missions: grants to needy students and loans that enable students to invest in their future success.”
Higher education provides many Americans with an important pathway to fulfilling careers and a lifetime of success. Streamlining, updating, and improving the federal student aid system will play an important role in ensuring higher education is more accessible and affordable.
“Simplifying federal student aid is just one principle in the comprehensive framework that will guide our work to strengthen higher education, but it’s a critical one,” Chairman Guthrie said. “Doing so will provide students and their families a more timely, clearer picture of the financial assistance they are eligible to receive. It will ensure taxpayer dollars are supporting those students who need help the most. And, perhaps most importantly, it will help more Americas realize that the dream of a higher education is within reach.”