Candidates plan to improve FAFSA

Nicole Stempak

Collin Bruning, junior sports administration major, said he does not know too much about the presidential candidates’ platforms. He does know that financial aid played a role in deciding where he would attend college, though.

Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama recognize the importance cost has for college students. Both have plans to simplify and improve the financial aid process.

Bruning said he is a first-generation college student, but his parents fill out his financial aid forms for him.

“They do it because they want me to have the best opportunities and college gives me the best opportunities,” he said.

Paul Lindsay, a McCain-Palin spokesman in Columbus, wrote in an e-mail McCain is “committed to ensuring that America’s students are prepared to compete with the skilled work forces in other parts of the world.

“John McCain strongly believes that education reform is the civil rights issue of the 21st century,” Lindsay wrote.

The number of grant and loan programs make it difficult for students to sort through, according to McCain’s Web site. He plans to simplify the financial aid process by consolidating the grant and loan programs, which he says will improve the administration of these programs and help more college students have a better understanding of their eligibility for aid.

Mark Evans, director of Student Financial Aid, said McCain’s proposal would make sense because of the financial aid system’s structure.

“Again, the question is instead of creating all these new grant programs, why not just add money to the existing Pell Grant program?” he said, adding students must already be Pell Grant recipients in order to receive one of these additional grants. “One could say there is a need to simplify the number of programs that are out there.”

Evans said these programs exist to meet a need that has been identified.

“There’s a need for teaching,” he said. “This is a way to encourage folks to consider that by providing funding.

“There’s a need for math and science majors, then this is an incentive for students to consider that field as well.”

Obama plans to simplify the process by giving taxpayers the option to select a box on the federal income tax form, said Jen Lynch, Ohio policy director for the Ohio Campaign for Change. By selecting the box, the federal government would notify taxpayers whether they qualify for financial aid.

Those who are eligible would then apply at their college or university, she said.

“This is a computer system,” she said. “This is something that would be automated. This is something that we already do.”

Lynch said she didn’t want to focus too much on specifics because the details have yet to be determined by Congress.

“What we are trying to get at is this: There are so many individuals who do not apply for federal financial aid because the forms are cumbersome (or) because it is intimidating,” she said. “We do not want anyone to be intimidated or not go to college because they simply don’t believe they can afford it.”

Evans said the financial aid process has already seen changes recently.

“Regardless of what happens with the election coming up, there have already been two major pieces of federal legislation that impact financial aid,” he said.

The first increased how much students can borrow on an annual basis and over their lifetime as they work toward their degree. The second was a review and revision of financial aid.

Bruning said he thinks the reforms would allow students to choose a college more on where they want to attend versus what they can afford.

“If financial dates and all the information was standardized, it would have a bigger impact on students’ decision of picking a school (because) the students will receive all the information on the same day,” he said.

One of Bruning’s friends already agreed to attend one university before learning she would have received more financial aid at another university.

Lynch said Obama has been a strong advocate of increasing funding and simplifying financial aid since he became a senator.

“One of the first things he did when he was elected to the U.S. Senate was introduce a bill to increase student financial aid,” she said. “He also graduated with a lot of student debt, so he certainly understands the process – the cumbersome process – of the student financial aid process as well as graduating with student debt.”

Legislation will ultimately decide what happens, but Bruning is looking forward to the improvement.

“If it’s making things easier to navigate, it’s always a good thing,” he said.

Contact student politics reporter Nicole Stempak at [email protected].