Many financially-needy students wait too long to file the FAFSA to receive their full eligibility for state and institutional aid, a new report has found.
Students for whom financial aid would be a significant boon – community college and part-time students, for example – often don’t meet priority filing deadlines in their states, if they file a FAFSA at all. Thus, they often don’t receive as much state and institutional aid as students who file by the first deadline, according to a new report “FAFSA Filing Among First-Year College Students: Who Files on Time, Who Doesn’t, and Why Does It Matter?”
That held true for students attending four-year public, four-year private, and two-year colleges, according to the report, which studied more than 11,000 first-year undergraduates enrolled in higher education in 2003-04 and eligible for financial aid. Late filers headed for community college, for example, received about $700 less on average than their peers who filed earlier—roughly the costs of books and supplies, the authors note.
Other students studied didn’t file the FAFSA at any time. In total, 44 percent of first-year community college students didn’t file a FAFSA, the highest of the sectors. Twenty-six percent of public four-year college students and 18 percent of private four-year college students didn’t file, either. Across sectors, part-time students were 75 percent more likely than full-time goers to not file, and students who took time off before college were less likely to file, too.
“There is a real need to rethink, and reinvent, the processes involved in applying for and receiving financial aid,” argue authors Lyle McKinney and Heather Novak, whose full report will be published in the upcoming edition of Research in Higher Education.
NASFAA has several ideas to help improve the financial aid application process. A Pell Promise, for instance, would alert students to their eligibility for the federal aid years before college, which could help to increase FAFSA filing. Using prior-prior year tax data on the FAFSA could accelerate financial aid applications to the beginning of senior year of high school, aligning it with the college application timeline. It would also eliminate the possibility of a delayed prior-year income tax return deterring a student from filing the FAFSA in a timely fashion.
An even more radical simplification of the aid application process could be to merge it with the tax return process, by providing a financial aid application section on or with the 1040 as an option for applying for federal student aid. This could eliminate the FAFSA application entirely for students and parents who file tax returns. An idea like this builds on the success of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool by leveraging it to an even greater extent.
What are your ideas for an improved application? Share your perspective in the comments section below.
Publication Date: 7/10/2014