Obama Unveils FAFSA Completion Initiative, Addresses Privacy Concerns

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

President Barack Obama last week announced the launch of a new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Completion Initiative, including new tools and resources to help states, districts, and high schools better support students in completing the form. 

According to a fact sheet released by the administration, the initiative will include a partnership between the Department of Education (ED) and state student aid agencies that will provide designated entities with the necessary data to identify individual students who have not completed the FAFSA. Starting in early 2014, states can use the information to support school and district efforts to boost FAFSA completion for the 2014-15 school year, building on the success of an ED pilot project launched in 2010 that worked directly with 100 school districts. 

An ED Questions & Answers document on the initiative notes that participation is voluntary for state student grant agencies, schools, and districts, and will be conducted through a revised Student Aid Internet Gateway (SAIG) agreement with ED in 2014. The revised agreement will give the participating agency the authority to share FAFSA filing status information with secondary schools, districts, and designated entities.

Under the initiative, only specified FAFSA filing status information is allowed to be shared and only once a written data sharing agreement between the agency and the school, district, or designated entity has been established. The written agreement will include a privacy and data security provision and will stipulate that the secondary school or school district will not redisclose the information and will comply with applicable privacy laws, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). 

FAFSA filing status information that may be shared with schools or districts includes: 

  • The student’s last name;
  • The student’s first name and middle initial;
  • The student’s date of birth; 
  • The student’s zip code, but not his or her full address;
  • The date the FAFSA was submitted to ED (if filed);
  • The date ED processed the FAFSA;
  • A flag indicating the need for the FAFSA applicant to provide additional information; and
  • A FAFSA completion status flag as determined by the state student grant agency.

The agencies may not share students’ social security numbers, student and parent financial information, or any other information from a student’s FAFSA.

In addition, the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has updated the existing FAFSA completion tool to include new, overall FAFSA completion numbers for the high school graduating class of 2014. FSA is also expanding the tool to include more than 25,000 high schools nationwide. The tool provides a way to disseminate FAFSA completion data and resources to schools and district leaders, and allows anyone with web access to track the overall number of FAFSA completions by students at specific schools. 

Both the initiative and the updated FSA tool are part of the president’s effort to increase college access through investments and initiatives included in his fiscal year 2015 budget request. Other higher education related items in the budget include: 

  • The College Opportunity and Graduation Bonus, which would provide an annual grant to eligible institutions based on their number of on-time graduates that receive Pell Grants, at a total 10-year cost of $7 billion.
  • The State Higher Education Performance Fund of $4 billion for states to support, reform, and improve the performance of their public higher education systems.  Through the fund, states would receive up to four years of funding, and would match their federal grants, dollar-for-dollar, for a total of $8 billion in four years.
  • The First in the World fund of $100 million would support innovative strategies and practices that improve college affordability and produce high-quality outcomes for students.

 

Publication Date: 3/12/2014


Mary M | 3/12/2014 10:52:11 AM

So by releasing the data about the students who HAVE completed the FAFSA, high school administrators and counselors are able to identify students who HAVE NOT completed the FAFSA. It is the low income and at-risk students who have not completed the FAFSA that need to be identified so that they can be encouraged and assisted in the financial aid application process.

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