Sen. Alexander promotes college aid accessibility in Tennessee

Overly-complicated forms make it harder for college students to participate in Tennessee Promise, he said

college-affordabilitySenate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) hosted a roundtable at Motlow State Community College in Tullahoma, Tenn., with area college presidents, students, student affairs and financial aid advisors, and high school guidance counselors to discuss his plan to simplify the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, that 430,000 Tennessee families fill out each year.

The first class of Tennessee Promise students began classes recently—with as many as 18,000 students taking advantage of the free tuition program. Governor Haslam has said that many prospective students are discouraged from the program by the FAFSA form. There still may be as many as 40,000 Tennessee families who are eligible for federal aid who are not filing the form.

“One of my top priorities in reauthorizing the Higher Education Act is eliminating unnecessary Washington red tape to make it easier to go to college,” Alexander said. “And that includes removing the chief obstacle for Tennessee high school seniors who want to take advantage of tuition-free community college by simplifying the dreaded FAFSA form, which 3,530 families of high school seniors in Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, Lincoln, Moore, and Rutherford counties filled out this year to receive financial aid.”

Alexander said his plan to simplify the FAFSA would help more Middle Tennessee high school graduates go to college and take advantage of Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Promise program for free community college.

“This year, Tennessee was first in the nation for its percentage of high school students filling out the FAFSA. Despite the team of Tennessee Promise mentors and school guidance counselors who worked hard to help students fill out this form to take advantage of the Tennessee Promise and federal student aid, nearly 40 percent of Tennessee high school seniors were so intimidated by this form that they didn’t apply,” Alexander said at the roundtable. “The president of Southwest Community College in Memphis told me he believes that he loses 1,500 students each semester because of the complexity of the form. There are 430,000 Tennessee families already filling out the form each year, and if we simplify the form, even more Tennesseans will be able to take advantage of Governor Haslam’s promise that two years of community college are tuition free.”

Alexander and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) have legislation to reduce the form from 108 questions to two questions: What is your family income? And, what is the size of your family? Alexander has said that including the proposal is a top priority in his committee’s work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this fall.

Alexander continued, “We may not get it all the way to two questions, but we can get it a lot closer to two than 108 and if we can, more Tennesseans will have a better future.” Senators Alexander and Bennet have also proposed allowing Pell grants to be used year-round so students can complete college more quickly if they choose, and also allowing students to fill out the federal forms in their junior year of high school instead of their senior year, so students know what financial aid will be available to them when they are shopping for colleges.

Participants in the higher education roundtable included Motlow State Community College President Anthony Kinkel; University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Steven Angle; Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney McPhee; former Chattanooga State President and Provost Dr. Fanny Hewlett; former Motlow State Community College President Marry Lou Apple; Tennessee College of Applied Technology Director Ivan Jones; Sewanee Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Lee Ann Afton; President of Cleveland State Community College Dr. Bill Seymour; former member of the Tullahoma Board of Education Linda Thoma; Tullahoma High Guidance Counselor Brenda Welch; Michael Green, current student at Motlow State Community College; Carlee Wilson, student at Motlow State Community College taking advantage of Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Promise program; and Laura Monks, Tennessee Promise mentor and director at Motlow State Community College.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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