ED Announces Improvements in FAFSA Verification at FSA Training Conference

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Department of Education (ED) officials announced Wednesday — the second day of the 2019 annual Federal Student Aid (FSA) Training Conference — that they reduced the number of FAFSA applications selected for verification by about 26% using new technology. 

During the second general session of the day, ED’s Ed Pacchetti explained to thousands of financial aid professionals that FSA had begun using a machine learning model in October 2018 to select FAFSA filers for verification, which reduced the applications selected from 30% to 22% in 2019-20 — 900,000 fewer than in 2018-19. 

Craig Munier, the assistant director of policy liaison and implementation at FSA, said ED is constantly working to find a balance between reducing the verification burden on students and financial aid administrators while still ensuring that students are disbursed the correct amount of funds. Pacchetti explained that ED’s cost-benefit analysis showed verifying 22% of FAFSA applications resulted in the highest return in reducing improper payments, which ED has been under pressure to address

“Only with the new technology of the machine learning model could FSA lower verification rates while controlling improper payments,” Pacchetti said. “... We hope that all of you have felt the reduction in burden this year.”

Pacchetti added that the new technology has consequently reduced the number of filers who never complete the FAFSA after being flagged for verification — known as “verification melt” —  which is an issue NASFAA has been outspoken about. He said ED has allowed 100,000 more students to continue the process of accessing federal financial aid based on its estimates that verification melt affects 11% of selected filers, and added that using others’ estimates that verification melt affects closer to 25% of selected filers, that figure rises to 225,000 students. 

Pacchetti said that moving forward, ED will continue to work toward reducing verification melt and improving its process for verification selection.

“The model that we are using is retrained every year, and it gets smarter every year,” he said, adding that ED is also rethinking its cost-benefit model for verification to include more costs. 


Publication Date: 12/5/2019

Lyn K | 12/6/2019 9:56:30 AM

I also agree with Cathy. There are additional items we are required to verify that are not part of the V1, V4, and V5 verification groups. These should be factored in to show the number of records that have a verification requirement - especially 400 and 401 codes which are a very common issue.

Peter G | 12/5/2019 12:9:04 PM

Since presumably FSA has this modeled out, more information on aggregate breakdown by type (% of Pell recipients, % of grad, % by sector, etc.) would be appreciated.

Timothy D | 12/5/2019 11:43:26 AM

I don't know about other schools, but when it comes to the 400/401 c-codes we only come across about 10% or less of students that actually meet the criteria set by Ed for these comments and only actually request documents from a small % of those that don't meet their criteria. I would agree that if a student/parent meets their criteria for the 400/401 c-code, just select them verification.

James C | 12/5/2019 10:29:44 AM

I know the criteria they use is "top secret" but it needs to be more intuitive. For example, blatant errors like student and parent AGI or taxes paid being the same needs to be selected and it currently is not (some of those fall under comment code 400). It also needs to be able to cross-check years so if a student was selected in the prior year and it made no difference in the EFC don't select them in future years. I also think first time FAFSA filers should have a greater probability of selection than renewal filers, especially if prior selection made no difference in the EFC as I stated previously.

Charles M | 12/5/2019 10:24:39 AM

Because of the "glitch" that occurred with the 2018-19 award year, causing a significant increase in students selected for verification, it seems it would be more appropriate to compare to the 2017-18 award year. It seems misleading to compare to a year that was artificially inflated due to an error in the verification selection process.

Mary N | 12/5/2019 9:14:01 AM

I agree with Cathy's comment. We see "melt" from the students with these codes as well.

It is great to know that the Department is taking steps to reduce the verification requirements.

Cathy M | 12/5/2019 8:16:19 AM

To be fair you'd need to factor in the additional 400/401 codes which in my opinion should have been selected for verification. It adds confusion for the families when there are multiple types of documentation requirements for all the different edits (ex. parent or student marital/filing status edit, 400/401, etc.).

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