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Student Aid Simplification: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

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  • Susan Dynarski
  • Mark Wiederspan

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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17834.

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Date of creation: Feb 2012
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Publication status: published as “Student Aid Simplification: Looking Back and Looking Ahead.” 2012. National Tax Journal 65:1, pp. 211-234. Co-author: Mark Wiederspan.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17834

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  1. Dynarski, Susan M. & Scott–Clayton, Judith E., 2006. "The Cost of Complexity in Federal Student Aid: Lessons from Optimal Tax Theory and Behavioral Economics," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 59(2), pages 319-56, June.
  2. Susan Dynarski & Joshua M. Hyman & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, 2011. "Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investments on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion," NBER Working Papers 17533, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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