NASFAA Mention: Income Verification for Federal Aid Hinders Low-Income Students

"Many scholarships, grants and other financial assistance given to low-income college students are usually offered on the premise that those students are already receiving federal aid to help pay tuition," Inside Higher Ed reports

"But a growing number of colleges are finding more low-income students are being flagged by the Department of Education during the bureaucratic process of verifying income eligibility for federal aid, and that those students are not completing the application process as a result. College administrators are concerned that much-needed aid is being left on the table by frustrated and discouraged students who've given up on the cumbersome process of applying for financial aid.

Financial aid experts call this retreat 'verification melt,' and many college administrators fear their neediest students may ruin their chances of earning college degrees and improving their long-term economic prospects.

'How many times does a student or parent have to repeatedly prove they are poor,' Michael Bennett, associate vice president of financial assistance services, at St. Petersburg College in Florida, said in an email. 'Verification for our lowest-income students is a barrier to access, and when aid is delayed because of excessive verification, access may be denied. Is this what we want?'

The Department of Education sets out to verify the eligibility of about 30 percent of all federal aid applicants during each application cycle for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly referred to as FAFSA. The department reached that goal in 2017. Approximately 27 percent of applicants were selected for verification this year.

It's not clear how many of those selected applicants claimed a zero 'expected family contribution,' or $0 EFC, to help pay for college. Department officials would not discuss the specifics of the verification algorithm with Inside Higher Ed, and there was no data available from the department that was specific to students who have a $0 EFC. However, financial aid administrators are seeing increases in the numbers of low-income students that are being selected for verification.

Karen McCarthy, a director of policy analysis at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said the Education Department has traditionally been hesitant to publish data on the number of students with the lowest expected family contributions selected for verification.

'Verification selection has hovered around 30 percent, which we maintain is higher than it needs to be for FAFSA completion,' she said.

McCarthy said it's more common for low-income students to be selected for verification than students who are not eligible for federal student aid. This may eventually change now that the Education Department is using a new verification computing model for the 2019-20 cycle that is expected to be more effective at targeting applicants for verification, according to department officials.

In the interim, however, low-income students appeared to be disproportionally singled out for verification. At St. Petersburg, where the two-year institution has a significant number of nontraditional and first-generation students, Bennett said 37 percent of students, on average, were selected for verification over five years. Forty-seven percent of students eligible for Pell Grants, the primary federal need-based aid, were also selected from 2015 through this year."

NASFAA's "Notable Headlines" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.


Publication Date: 10/12/2018

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Verification: 2019-20


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