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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Susan Dynarski & Mark Wiederspan, 2012. "Student Aid Simplification: Looking Back and Looking Ahead," NBER Working Papers 17834, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17834
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    References listed on IDEAS

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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 319-356, June.
    2. Susan Dynarski & Joshua Hyman & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, 2013. "Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investments on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 32(4), pages 692-717, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Celeste K. Carruthers & Jilleah G. Welch, 2015. "Not Whether, but Where? Pell Grants and College Choices," Working Papers 2015-04, University of Tennessee, Department of Economics, revised 28 Sep 2015.
    2. Gabrielle Fack & Julien Grenet, 2013. "Improving College Access and Success for Low-Income Students: Evidence from a Large Need-based Grant Program," Working Papers halshs-00870546, HAL.
    3. Nicholas W. Hillman & Erica Lee Orians, 2013. "Financial Aid's Role in Meeting State College Completion Goals," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 8(3), pages 349-363, July.
    4. Susan Dynarski & Judith Scott-Clayton & Mark Wiederspan, 2013. "Simplifying Tax Incentives and Aid for College: Progress and Prospects," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 27, pages 161-201 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Gabrielle Fack & Julien Grenet, 2015. "Improving College Access and Success for Low-Income Students: Evidence from a Large Need-Based Grant Program," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 1-34, April.
    6. Herber, Stefanie P. & Kalinowski, Michael, 2016. "Non-take-up of Student Financial Aid: A Microsimulation for Germany," Annual Conference 2016 (Augsburg): Demographic Change 145727, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    7. Stefanie P. Herber & Michael Kalinowski, 2016. "Non-Take-Up of Student Financial Aid: A Microsimulation for Germany," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 844, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    8. Herber, Stefanie P. & Kalinowski, Michael, 2016. "Non-take-up of student financial aid: A microsimulation for Germany," BERG Working Paper Series 109, Bamberg University, Bamberg Economic Research Group.
    9. Rajeev Darolia, 2015. "Income-Tested College Financial Aid and Labor Disincentives," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 15-248, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I22 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Educational Finance; Financial Aid
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy

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