Student aid simplification: Looking back and looking ahead

Susan Dynarski, Mark Wiederspan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Each year, 14 million households seeking federal aid for college complete a detailed questionnaire about their finances, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). With 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 applying for aid could undermine its ability to affect schooling decisions. In 2006, Dynarski and Scott-Clayton published in this journal 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-234
Number of pages24
JournalNational Tax Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • College application
  • College financial aid
  • Complexity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics


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