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Form for student loans will become shorter

  • Story Highlights
  • FAFSA has been dreaded for its complexity and length
  • Department of Education will cut out more than a quarter of the questions
  • The online version will be slashed from 30 screens down to just 10
  • Changes to the FAFSA will take effect for the 2010-2011 school year
By Lisa Desjardins
CNN Radio
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One of the great headaches of the American dream is about to get less painful.

The road to college promises to be a little easier with the coming shorter FAFSA forms.

The road to college promises to be a little easier with the coming shorter FAFSA forms.

Millions of parents and students will have much shorter federal applications for financial aid to pay for college. The form, known as FAFSA, is infamous for its detail and is considered by critics to be more painful and complex than a tax return.

The Department of Education plans to unveil a shorter FAFSA on Wednesday, cutting out more than a quarter of the questions and slashing the online version from 30 screens down to just 10.

And in a partnership with the Internal Revenue Service, many families will be able to automatically download their tax data into online FAFSA forms starting in January.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is expected to announce those changes for the 2010-2011 school year at the daily White House briefing Wednesday, along with a proposal for Congress to cut even more bulk from the FAFSA .

In a statement obtained by CNN Radio, the Obama appointee linked the slash in paperwork to the administration's economic push.

"We have to educate our way to a better economy," Duncan said. "Young people and adult learners deserve the chance to go to college and to know the money they need is available."

The changes to the FAFSA are often commonsense, dropping obscure specifics that affect few students' status, such as "special combat pay."

Likewise, the agency is cutting through queries dripping in bureaucrat-ese. For example, the question, "At any time... did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?" will instead be, "Are you homeless?"

The FAFSA overhaul has been a long time in the making. Last year, Democrats in Congress pushed through student loan reforms that included some requirements for shorter, more user-friendly versions of FAFSA.

One of the captains of that effort, House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller, D-California, is ready for more. In a statement, Miller said he looks forward to working with Duncan, "to make college more affordable by making student loans more reliable, effective and efficient for families and taxpayers."

Duncan will need Miller's help. The education chief wants Congress to cut out a number of questions that either affect very few students or are impossible to verify, including a particularly stress-inducing series about parental assets.

In addition to lowering blood pressure during student loan season, the effort could save countless hours of work. According the Department of Education, some 15 million parents and students trudge through the FAFSA every year, as a required step toward scholarships, grants and loans.

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