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The University of Tennessee favors any changes to federal policy and processes that could help more students earn college degrees and graduate on time, UT President Joe DiPietro told a panel about federal financial aid on Tuesday.
DiPietro was a participant in a discussion hosted by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander at Pellissippi State Community College to answer questions about Alexander’s proposal to streamline the Free Application for Financial Student Aid, or FAFSA form.
The Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency (FAST) Act is expected to be introduced by Alexander and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado in November and acted upon next year. The proposed legislation seeks to reduce the FAFSA form from more than 100 questions to a handful, to allow families to learn earlier in their college application process how much aid they qualify for, to simplify the number of federal grant and loan programs, to extend the use of Pell grants year-round, and simplify repayment options and discourage students from borrowing too much.
Most students applying to and enrolled at UT’s undergraduate campuses in Knoxville, Martin and Chattanooga fill out the FAFSA form to receive aid and to apply for Tennessee’s HOPE scholarship. Tuesday’s panelists all agreed a shorter form would be beneficial and could help eliminate a perceived barrier to applying for college.
“We think this is a great idea to make it easier and simpler moving forward,” DiPietro said.
UT officials believe more Pell-eligible students would take summer classes if the grants were extended beyond the fall and spring semesters. About 35 percent of all UT undergraduates receive Pell grants, with the highest percentage at UT Martin, at 47 percent for FY14.
“If you look at the year-round aspect of the Pell, we would be all over that,” DiPietro said. “We think it’s a really good thing from the standpoint of four-year institutions and community colleges.”
Tuesday’s panel also discussed how the complexity of financial aid, in general, is a barrier for students and their families, and DiPietro said UT is making strides in advising and providing information to help in the process.
“We now have a mantra that says student success… is everybody’s job,” DiPietro said. “We’re doing our level best to make sure more and more that our students are completing on time.”