Michelle Schol, junior in linguistics, fills out paperwork at the Financial Aid office at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado on July 30, 2014.
Michelle Schol, junior in linguistics, fills out paperwork at the Financial Aid office at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado on July 30, 2014. (Mark Leffingwell, Boulder Daily Camera)

Sharing stories about parents who don't cooperate and costly mistakes, college students and counselors talked Tuesday with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet about his plans to simplify the way students apply for financial aid.

"I would love a shorter form," said Ann Atencio, a guidance counselor for Aurora Public Schools. "With longer forms there's more opportunities for mistakes."

Right now the 108-question Free Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA) can be completed online or on paper. Questions include some about demographics, how many people in the household will be attending college at the same time, parent's tax and income information and the value of the family's assets.

Atencio said one of her students was at risk of losing all of her financial aid one year because of "one number that was off in her form."

Bennet has joined with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who was secretary of education (1991-93), to propose a simplification of the form to just two content questions. Tuesday's discussion, Bennet said, will help him make his case for the change when he returns to Washington.

The revised form would ask only family size and household income from two years ago.

"There have been concerns about whether two questions are too few, and we wanted to start with the smallest number of questions, with the theory that maybe other people think of some things we can add back in," Bennet said. "But we're very serious about keeping it short."


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Everette Freeman, president of the Community College of Denver, said Tuesday he estimates 81 percent of CCD students are eligible for financial aid but only about 52 percent complete the aid form.

Freeman and Stephen Jordan, president of Metropolitan State University of Denver, said private funding that they disperse sometimes goes unused because students don't apply for financial aid.

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In Colorado, the number of students filling out the form has been decreasing in recent years.

According to data from the federal student aid office in the Department of Education, there were 322,680 Colorado applications filled out during the 2013-14 school year, down from 336,030 from 2012-13.

Nationwide, Bennet estimates there are 2 million students who could qualify for financial aid who aren't applying.

The idea with a shorter form is more students would fill it out, perhaps realize they may be able to afford college and, in turn, actually might enroll.

The proposal also would change deadlines, allowing students to fill out the form a year before they graduate, and would allow students who qualify and receive financial aid to use it throughout the year including during the summer.

Yesenia Robles: 303-954-1372, yrobles@denverpost.com or twitter.com/yeseniarobles