New Report Identifies Information Barriers Impede Access to Financial Resources for Students

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter 

Rising tuition costs have been a continual source of stress for students trying to enroll in postsecondary programs, but for many, increases in non-tuition expenses are exacerbating the financial burden.

A new policy report from The Hope Center is aiming to help colleges better identify and support students in need of non-tuition expenses and help ensure that they have access to available financial aid.

“Since 1995-96, the percent of financial aid applicants with an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of $0 has doubled,” according to the analysis. That jump means that today, 2 in 5 higher education students now fall into this category and have no financial ability of their own to pay for college.

Due to this jump, colleges struggle to distinguish financial need across a very large group of students, and some students receive insufficient financial support.

“Those students with the least financial resources are the most impacted; students whose EFCs are restricted to $0 are more likely than their peers with higher EFCs to have unmet need.”

In order to combat this lack of targeted aid, the paper urged policymakers to implement negative EFC as a method of providing more accurate and nuanced information about a student’s financial need. While the Student Aid Index (SAI) being implemented through the FUTURE Act can help colleges better understand students’ needs by allowing them to see negative values, the paper argues that it does not fix everything. Instead, The Hope Center would like to see no dollar limit placed on EFCs (-$1,500 under SAI) so that schools will have a more complete picture of their students’ financial need.

The Hope Center demonstrated just how significant this change in calculation could be for  prospective students, perhaps revealing unmet need thousands of dollars higher than currently measured.

Within the paper, The Hope Center also provided a resource for colleges to calculate and use negative EFC.

Further, the paper highlighted how informational barriers impact both students and financial aid staff, which results in students failing to fully deduce the real costs associated with college, as well as a lack of information regarding options other than emergency funds for non-tuition support.

The Hope Center goes on to provide a number of interventions, conducted over the course of a year with financial aid and student affairs administrators and staff at six colleges and universities in Texas, that aided in overcoming these costly barriers.

After having watched a short video and presentation developed by The Hope Center, students were able to better understand the cost of attendance, non-tuition support, and the financial aid appeals process. That, in tandem with a presentation and resource guide on negative EFC, helped shift administrators’ understanding of key financial aid concepts and help them make better use of financial aid data.

“The Real Price of College project sought to address some of the shortcomings of the current financial aid system,” The Hope Center wrote. “We provided information about negative EFC to financial aid and student affairs administrators at six colleges in Texas. Our efforts appeared to change their perception of the accuracy of current financial aid measures.”


Publication Date: 10/22/2021

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