SEATTLE — Two million more young people could get the financial aid they need to go to college if the federal government makes it easier to fill out its financial aid forms, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said Wednesday.
The Seattle-based foundation said that revising the form would be relatively simple and would not change the accuracy of the process.
Students must fill out a form known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, before they can qualify for a federal grant, a subsidized student loan, or nearly any other form of college financial aid.
The Gates Foundation has taken aim at the FAFSA as part of its strategy to make college more accessible to low-income students, said Dan Greenstein, director of the Postsecondary Success team at the foundation.
They are far from alone in calling for reform of this complex application process that requires students to answer numerous questions each year about their parent’s financial status and tax returns.
‘‘There is already a lot of conversation around financial aid and FAFSA simplification. We’re delighted to contribute to the debate,’’ Greenstein said.
Both congressional leaders and officials at the Department of Education said Wednesday that they endorse the idea of simplifying the FAFSA.
The foundation is asking for three changes:
■ Eliminate many of the more complex questions on the form, because they only apply to a small percentage of the applicants.
■ Allow a direct link to Internal Revenue Service data to automatically fill in part of the form.
■ Let students use tax information from two years before their application so they don’t have to wait until their parents start their current taxes.
‘‘The data exists, the technology exists, and there’s an emergency sense of urgency,’’ Greenstein said.
He believes that most of the proposed changes would require congressional approval, although the foundation has shared its findings with both Congress and the Department of Education.
US senators Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, and Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, have introduced legislation that would scrap the current form, said Philip Clelland, a spokesman for Bennet. In its place, Clelland said, would be a postcard with two questions: one about an applicant’s family size and another about household income from the two years prior.
The Department of Education has done some recent simplification of the process and would like to see more changes, according to press secretary Dorie Turner Nolt. Those changes would include allowing families to upload information directly from the IRS.
‘‘We have called on Congress to make key legislative changes to make FAFSA even simpler, but until that happens, we will look for other steps we can take to help students and families as they apply for federal financial aid,’’ she said.