Report: More Data And Innovation Could Lead To Better Higher Ed Access

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff 

Policymakers and entrepreneurs should invest in technology and data collection to help guide people through the process of accessing financial aid and higher education, according to a new report from the American Enterprise Institute.

According to the report, many prospective, qualified students do not complete the tasks, meet the deadlines, and finish the paperwork necessary to get into college and receive financial aid, resulting in society “miss[ing] out on the benefits of educated citizens.” 

Data cited in the report from the Consortium on Chicago School Research shows that for every 100 students who aspire to go to a four-year college, only 41 ever enroll in one. The Consortium found that in addition to a general lack of preparation, several hurdles also contribute to the gap, including failing to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

“The cost of college is a source of anxiety and misinformation among prospective students and their families,” the report’s authors write. Not recognizing that students pay a net price rather than a full sticker cost, not understanding the need to file a FAFSA and sometimes the CSS Profile, and having trouble deciphering financial aid offers are “pitfalls” of addressing the cost and access of college.

The report examines various innovations that students are using to help navigate the tasks associated with applying for college and financial aid and suggests areas in which policymakers should reduce barriers to problem solving. 

“Reducing the bureaucratic hoops that students must jump through – by, for instance, simplifying the federal financial aid application – would help ensure that students who are sufficiently prepared and driven to succeed do not get locked out on procedural grounds while leaving the academic sorting process intact,” the authors state.

The authors argue for a collection of better data about costs, quality, and likely returns regarding higher education. In addition, this data needs to be made available in a format that would allow policymakers and entrepreneurs to build solutions that also respect students’ and families’ privacy. 

“Collecting better data and making it public in ways that preserve privacy could create an ecosystem of private nonprofit and for-profit providers with tools tailored to the needs of different groups of students,” the authors write.

Additionally, policymakers should clarify policies regarding data privacy and communicate transparently, which would encourage responsible use of the data, the report said. Specifically, state policymakers should promote partnerships between school districts and provide incentives to higher education institutions to purchase new tools from third-party providers that can help students and their families make decisions about higher education.

“Rather than simply adding one more service to a long list of existing services, schools and campuses could push more aggressively to use successful innovations to replace less cost-effective practices,” the authors write, adding, “The money saved could be reinvested in improving instruction and keeping tuition affordable.”

What do you think can be done to help ensure that qualified students will not fall though the cracks? Tell us in the comments section! 


Publication Date: 6/19/2014

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