Difficulty, Lack of Support Cited as Biggest Obstacles for FAFSA Completion Among Low-Income Students, Survey Finds

By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter

While the rate of prospective college students who have completed the FAFSA has stabilized a bit recently after a significant dip early in the pandemic, about 30% of both first-generation and low-income students said completing the form was difficult, according to a new survey from EAB.

Those students were 10 to 15 percentage points more likely than other students to say completing the FAFSA was difficult, with Latino and Asian students reporting the greatest difficulty.

Lack of parental support, difficulty acquiring tax information, confusing questions, income changes, and citizenship status were cited as barriers to completing the FAFSA, according to the survey, which polled more than 15,000 students between February 23 and March 11.

In a blog post accompanying the survey results, EAB noted that “the students and families who most need financial support to attend college are the least likely to have the kind of support and encouragement to file the FAFSA in the current environment.”

Notably, the survey found that almost 40% of first-generation students and 37% of low-income students said they completed the FAFSA themselves, compared to 11% of students from higher-income families.

Overall, roughly 4 in 5 high school seniors who responded to the survey reported they have completed the FAFSA, according to the survey.

The findings underscore the data from throughout the past year showing likely enrollment declines this fall among low-income and first-generation students. Students who were forced to to leave the classroom and attend school virtually for much of the past year missed critical support systems that exist with school infrastructure to assist in completing the FAFSA.

“We know that the largely virtual environment this fall put a halt to the typical in-person support network of financial aid nights, scholarship Saturdays, and casual contact in the hallways during the school day,” the EAB blog post said. “Those in-person experiences meant students would find it hard to miss information about financial aid and could get their more personal and detailed questions answered.”

To aid in the FAFSA completion process, EAB advised higher education institutions to clearly and proactively communicate with students about their financial aid options, particularly among those whose families may have experienced a loss of income due to the pandemic. Additionally, extending priority deadlines for filing and offering in-person filing sessions can also help, the report suggested.

With the FAFSA set to undergo major revisions in the coming years as part of legislation included in a recently passed coronavirus relief package, those in the higher education sector are hoping some of the obstacles are alleviated with a simpler form with significantly fewer questions.


Publication Date: 4/8/2021

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