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A Simpler Process for Student Aid?

WASHINGTON - Torrin King's older sister warned him that filling out federal forms for college aid would be a two-hour ordeal at best. He's happy to update her.

"I can tell you she was wrong," says King, 17, a senior at Banneker High School here. It took him just 20 minutes to complete his portion online. His mother also found her parts easy to fill out, and "she's not computer-literate," he says.

That unscripted moment is music to the ears of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who told students here Tuesday that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) "used to be really, really, really tough" to fill out; he hopes a new, simplified version will encourage more to apply. An estimated 1.5 million low-income students probably are eligible for federal aid but don't apply, in part because they find the process so daunting.

The new FAFSA, often used by states and colleges to determine aid amounts, was launched Friday for the 2010-11 academic year. More than 90(PERCENT) of families apply online, and technology is responsible for most of the changes so far:

Fewer questions. "Enhanced skip logic" lets students skip questions that don't apply.

Friendlier navigation. Student and parent sections are marked and color-coded, and screens include an easy-to-find "help and hints" section.

More information. Students who express interest in particular colleges now get an instant estimate of Pell Grant and loan eligibility and links to graduation rates and other information.

Less duplication. Later this month, families applying for aid for this spring can import tax data from the IRS for up to 18 questions. That feature should be available by summer for 2010-11.

Congress also is considering a proposal to remove other financial questions, including several about assets, so families could apply for aid using only financial information from their tax returns.

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