>>> John Matlock <[log in to unmask]> 3/22/2007 5:08 AM >>>
Spellings Introduces 'Fafsa4caster' to Give Students Earlier Data on
By LAUREN SMITH
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced on Wednesday a
new online tool that will help students and their families better
financially plan for college before a student's senior year of high
The "Fafsa4caster," as the tool is called, will calculate a student's
eligibility for federal student aid, including Pell Grants and
Using the new tool will also reduce the time it takes to complete the
online Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or Fafsa, when
students are actually ready to apply for aid. Information will be
transferred from the forecaster to the larger form to pre-populate
about half of its 100-plus questions.
The Fafsa is the basic application form used by the federal and state
governments and most colleges to determine eligibility for financial
aid, and reducing its complexity is a long-sought goal.
In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday morning, Ms.
Spellings stressed the new tool's value for families and high-school
students as they plan how they will pay for college.
"It's important that we help families do that much earlier than their
senior year," the secretary said. "They need to start looking at this
in their junior year and even before."
The federal Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which
reported to Ms. Spellings last September, found a "crying need" to
provide families with federal student-aid information quicker, she
said, and the Fafsa4caster is the department's first step toward
dealing with that issue.
The Fafsa4caster "will be used by millions of students and families,
and it's an important step forward," Ms. Spellings said.
The program will forecast the amount of federal assistance a student
qualifies for, but not state aid. A later version, set to be released
in September, will provide case examples of what potential total-aid
packages and eligibility would look like at various postsecondary
Non-Web-based alternatives for collecting information for the Fafsa
for students and families without access to the Internet are also
being explored. Those include a "tele-Fafsa" pilot program in which
students can call an 800 number and have a customer-service
representative from the Education Department enter their information
over the phone.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of
the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee,
commended Secretary Spellings for developing the Fafsa4caster.
"This tool appears to be a good first step," Mr. Kennedy said in a
written statement, "but we should do even more to simplify the Fafsa
as much as possible and make the student-aid application process
easier for students and families."
Secretary Spellings mirrored that sentiment. "While this is an
important first step, this is not the only step," she said. "We have
a financial-aid process that is confusing and can be improved, and
more-comprehensive reform is also in order."
In a similar drive to facilitate the Fafsa, on Tuesday, members of
both the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced bills
that would allow students to file a "pre-Fafsa" during their junior
year, and cut the number of questions on the Fafsa form in half by
using financial information from income-tax returns (The Chronicle,
The Fafsa4caster will be available April 1, and a Spanish version
will be available April 29.
JOHN MATLOCK, ([log in to unmask])
Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic
and Director, Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives
The University of Michigan
3009 SAB Building
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1316
Phone: (734) 936-1055 Fax: (734) 764-3595
For scheduling: contact Carol Williams ([log in to unmask])