U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, East Tennessee State University’s spring commencement keynote speaker, let a federal financial aid form fall from above his head to the ground Saturday before graduation to show the amount of information and effort put into filling out forms for entry into college. Alexander, a Republican and former secretary of education in the early 1990s, said he basically wants to water down the multi-page form to just two questions: how many people in your family and how much income does your family collectively make.
From those answers, he said, the federal government should be able to determine and provide an amount of money with which potential students can go shopping, be it at a school like ETSU or a community college.
A Washington Post story said the National Conference of State Legislatures recently ranked states on the amount of adults 25 years or older with at least a bachelor’s degree. Tennessee was in the bottom half with a percentage of 24.3.
When asked about the numbers, Alexander said they were too low and his form-shortening idea could be a fix.
“One thing we can do to increase graduation rates is simplify the application process,” Alexander said. “Let’s say you come from a family who didn’t go to college in Blount County, Greene County or Washington County and you’re presented with these 100 questions and all of this (pointing to the form) in your senior year of high school, it intimidates many students and discourages them from going to college.”
In his commencement speech, he later touched on a friendship he and his family had with famous Tennessee author Alex Haley, who held onto the idea that people should “find the good and praise it.” This motto is something Alexander says he carries with him and would like to instill in the graduates who sat before him Saturday.
Staying positive and making the most of each situation was a way a person could perform at their highest level, he said, but it wouldn’t hurt to get help from the federal government, too, which he thinks is a current detriment to the economy.
“It’s too hard to find a job or create a job today,” Alexander said. He went on to say the best way to produce opportunities for the new graduates would come through deregulation.
“The best thing is to liberate the free enterprise system for jobs,” Alexander said. “We have too many rules and regulations.”
The length of the FAFSA form was his example Saturday of too many rules and regulations.
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