Arne Duncan hopes to simplify financial aid process

By Olivia Garber

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told college students yesterday that he believes… U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told college students yesterday that he believes simplifying the financial aid process could increase the number of students who graduate from college.

Hosted by MTV’s college affordability challenge, the conference call with  Duncan, along with College Board President Gaston Caperton, discussed various issues surrounding the college financial aid process with student journalists. MTV has offered a $10,000 prize to students who develop digital technology to simplify the aid application process.

Students face many barriers to attending college, Duncan said, and more than 2 million students don’t apply for financial aid. Duncan partly blamed that number on the complexity of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The secretary said he has tried to make the process more user-friendly, especially for first-generation college students, by removing some questions from the form.

Streamlining the form began last year, according to a press release from the U.S Department of Education.

The speakers also spoke on what Duncan called the “attainment on the back end” of college.

Expanding Pell Grants and condensing the application process increased students’ access to financial aid. He said the government now needs to help students graduate.

“It’s sad to say 56 percent of students who enter college graduate in six years, and one of the problems is the idea of how we should and can find and develop financial aid programs,” Caperton said.

Caperton called this a waste of money. Students face mounting costs — the U.S. Bureau of Labor estimated that tuition increases at twice the rate of inflation. Failing to complete — a degree means wasted funds.

He blamed uncompleted college degrees on students.

“The waste of cost that is, not the fact that they go, but the fact that they haven’t prepared themselves to go,” he said.

A generation ago, the United States produced proportionally the largest amount of college graduates in the world. Today, it sits ninth in global rankings.

Duncan and Caperton mentioned plans meant to spur students toward graduation. Most involved financial reward. Graduates who work in public service will have loans forgiven after 10 years.

Those not working in public service will have income-based repayment. Loan payments are capped after students have paid 10 percent of their yearly income.

Colleges that cap tuition, adopt three-year programs and have a “no-frills campus” can make graduating easier for students, Duncan said.

He also said the government can act as a “bully pulpit” to encourage colleges to give students a good education for a good price.