Colleges Puzzled by Surge in FAFSA Verification Requests

"Colleges and universities are reporting a surge in students being asked to verify information on their federal financial aid applications, a time-consuming process that school officials fear could derail low-income applicants," The Washington Post reports.

"Every year, about one-third of all students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA, must provide further proof that the information they supplied is accurate. The U.S. Department of Education can flag students for verification at random, but the odds increase if their application is incomplete or contains discrepancies. College financial aid administrators say they always anticipate contacting some students for additional documentation, but the numbers this year have skyrocketed. And they don’t know why.

University financial aid administrators say they are astonished by the rate of verifications. Many have received about the same number of FAFSA submissions as they did last year at this time, but the number of students being flagged has doubled in some cases.

'The department has sophisticated people that we hope are building in appropriate selection criteria in the methodology, but this year, there is no rhyme or reason to what they’re doing,' said Mary Sommers, director of financial aid at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. 'Did something change? We’ve heard nothing to date.'

The Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid said it is aware of the issue and working to fix it. The department bases verification selection on several factors, including application patterns from the previous cycle, and some significant changes last year affected this year’s selection.

...

In October alone, several public and private four-year colleges reported that the proportion of FAFSAs flagged for verification increased as much as threefold compared to the year before, according to data from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. The trade group did not disclose the names of the schools."

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Publication Date: 11/29/2017

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