U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings addressed concerns ranging from college financial aid to No Child Left Behind during a lecture at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Oct. 1.
Spellings decried the decline in U.S. college completion rates, arguing that higher education is inaccessible to far too many people. As an example, she cited the complex Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application form, which contains more than 100 questions.
“It’s red tape like this that keeps 40 percent of college students from even applying for aid,” she said. “That’s 8 million students. And we believe most would have been eligible for assistance.”
Spellings shared with the audience a significantly smaller proposed form — reduced from six pages to two — with only 27 questions.
“This new form, coupled with other financial aid reforms, will provide real-time information on how much aid you can expect to receive, as opposed to how much you and your family are expected to contribute under the current system. This will put you in the driver’s seat, with more time to investigate your options,” she said.
Former HKS professor Susan Dynarski has long argued that the college financial aid application process is too complicated and exclusionary.
She has proposed a FAFSA form that would fit on a simple postcard in her working paper, “College Grants on a Postcard: A Proposal for Simple and Predictable Federal Student Aid.”
During her talk at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, Spellings acknowledged faults in the American education system from kindergarten to college and spoke of the racial and financial barriers to students.
“That’s why we need to ask ourselves: Is our education system all it should be? Is it preparing all of our children for success in college and the workforce? Is it giving them the skills to make a difference in solving the vital issues of the day — poverty and hunger, energy and prosperity, war and peace?” she asked. “In all candor, we must answer no. … We cannot be content with having some good schools and some bad ones — a bright future for some and not for others. We live in a global economy — not a gated community.”
Spellings served as senior adviser to then Texas Gov. George W. Bush on education issues. She joined Bush in the White House to become assistant to the president for domestic policy and it was during this tenure that she worked to develop the No Child Left Behind Act. In 2005, Spellings was named U.S. secretary of education.