On Lamar Alexander, a seven-foot-long form and, maybe, a bit of oversimplification

To demonstrate the clumsy growth of federal regulations and their effect on the education system, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander unfurled an impressive visual aid Saturday before East Tennessee State University’s commencement ceremony, reports The Johnson City Press.

In front of television cameras and scribbling pens, the senator dropped a seven-foot-long copy of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and held one end high above his head.

“It intimidates a lot of students, discourages them from going to college, and it wastes a lot of time and money that could be spent on educating students,” Alexander, the country’s former Education Secretary, told reporters. “My goal as U.S. senator is to reduce this form to two questions: One would be ‘How many members are in your family?’ and ‘How much money did your family make last year?’ Think of all the productivity that would encourage.”

The FAFSA was added to the country’s Higher Education Act in 1992 under President George H.W. Bush. (Note: Alexander was U.S. Secretary of Education at the time.) Since then, it has provided current and upcoming college students with a free method to apply for available federal and state grants, but some now believe it has become overgrown and needs an enthusiastic pruning.

Like Alexander, Margaret Miller, ETSU’s Director of Financial Aid, believes the application has become overly complicated, but she said reducing it to only two questions may be oversimplification.

…On Alexander’s larger-than-life-size form, Miller said it’s not the usual method for applying. To save printing costs, the federal government stopped widely distributing paper copies to schools in 2007 and now relies mainly on online applications.

Alexander and Miller both said the arduous application process can dissuade students from applying for college, especially students who are the first in their family to attend a higher education institution, those who likely need financial aid the most.

Miller said the senator’s proposed questions are a good foundation for determining eligibility for aid, but said other questions should cover untaxed income and how many students a family is currently supporting in college.

…A spokesperson for Alexander reached Monday said the senator’s legislation is “in the works.”

In February, Washington media reported the formation of a task force including Alexander and Sens. Michael Bennet, Barbara Mikulski and Richard Burr, members who intend to simplify and deregulate higher education in the upcoming renewal of the Higher Education Act.

Alexander, seeking re-election this year, said Saturday if Republicans take control of the Senate in the upcoming mid-term Congressional elections, he will be the chairman of the Education Committee, and the streamlined education law will have an easy passage.