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Obama to make it easier to apply for college aid

The administration will reduce the number of questions on federal forms – currently so tortuous they deter many from applying.

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Tales of families tearing out their hair trying to apply for college financial aid may soon be a thing of the past. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Wednesday several steps to simplify the much-criticized Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The form, which currently asks about 150 questions, is required for federal grants and loans and, in many cases, aid from states and colleges. Applicants next year should see a 20 percent reduction in questions.

"President Obama has challenged the nation to once again have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world," said Secretary Duncan. "To do that, we need to make the college-going process easier and more convenient, and to send a clear message to young people as well as adults that college is within their reach. Simplifying the financial aid process is an important step toward reaching that goal."

Among college students, the government estimates that 1.5 million could be eligible for Pell grants but have not applied, perhaps because of the paperwork.

Starting later this summer, students filling out the online form will be able to skip some questions that don't pertain to them. For instance, married students and people 24 or older will be able to jump past 11 questions used to determine if parental information is needed. By January, low-income students will no longer be asked to supply information about assets, since that does not determine their eligibility for aid.

As part of a pilot project in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service, students applying for aid for the coming spring semester will be able to automatically retrieve tax information from the IRS to fill in parts of the online FAFSA.

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