Some Worry FSA ID Is Hurting FAFSA Completions

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

A security measure meant to better protect the personal information of millions of students nationwide might actually be partly responsible for complicating the FAFSA application process and preventing some students from gaining access to federal student aid, some student advocacy groups have said.

Students currently filling out the FAFSA to receive financial aid for the next school year are the first to use the FSA ID, an electronic username and password that replaced the four-digit Federal Student Aid PIN, which had been in use since 1998, according to the Department of Education (ED). But in a series of blog posts published this month, the National College Access Network (NCAN) suggested the new security requirements that come along with the FSA ID could make the process more complicated for students and parents.

After hearing from some members and partners that they had seen a decrease in FAFSA completions, NCAN analyzed publicly available FAFSA completion data and found that FAFSA completion for high school seniors has decreased by 7 percent since last year, and FAFSA submissions fell 2 percent, as of February 12.

"While there is always a gap between [the] number of FAFSAs submitted and the number completed, the fact that the year to year change is greater for completions is concerning," Carrie Warick director of partnerships and policy for NCAN, wrote in a blog post. "The primary change from last year's FAFSA to this year's is the change to using a Federal Student Aid ID instead of a PIN to access and sign the FAFSA."

Warick noted that while other factors, such as an improving economy or small high school classes, could also come into play, the larger decrease in FAFSA completions "points to an issue with the FSA ID."

Any issues students and parents might be having with the FSA ID could potentially prevent some from receiving state grants and aid that have earlier priority deadlines. Some states –– such as California, Michigan, and Tennessee –– have priority deadlines that already passed, while others –– Illinois and Washington –– dole out state aid on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that some officials in California were urging students to submit incomplete FAFSAs to make the state cutoff for student aid, and indicated that some technological barriers stood in the way for low-income families.

In a separate blog post, Kim Cook, executive director of NCAN, wrote that ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) plans to remind students that several state deadlines are approaching, and plans to conduct targeted outreach based on state deadlines, among other outreach efforts.

Cook told POLITICO PRO’s Morning Education that the problems and the apparent decline in FAFSA completions is "heartbreaking."

"Perhaps there is a better balance, or happy medium, to strike that delicate balance between data security and integrity and not creating additional barriers for students," Cook said.


Publication Date: 3/10/2016

Mark K | 4/29/2016 11:52:42 AM

Perhaps reducing FAFSA completions is the secret agenda behind the switch to an overly cumbersome process for the FSA ID. A 7% reduction in FAFSA completions might reduce Federal Pell Grant volume by $2 billion a year.

Dori B | 4/29/2016 8:46:08 AM

As the FAA at a community college, I can wholeheartedly agree with some of the other comments regarding the difficulty many of our students have with the new FSA ID process. By far, this one change has done more to increase the time spent on completing the FASA and the frustration experienced by our students. Yes, this incoming generation is technologically adept...HOWEVER, community college students are non-traditional students, and in my area of the country, many have no access to the internet and very little experience in dealing with the complex nature of password security. Creating the FSA ID is our number one issue and complaint about completing the FAFSA.

Michelle M | 3/11/2016 9:11:19 AM

We have students who change their e-mail addresses like they change their underwear, they also change their addresses and their phone numbers frequently. The result is that we are often unable to assist them in resetting passwords and editing their FSA IDs. Many of them, even those supposedly "technologically proficient", don't regularly scan their spam folders or even read e-mails from entities they don't recognize. Why isn't there a print option for this process so that they can have a hard copy to keep?

Linda W | 3/10/2016 10:52:52 AM

When did we become a hammer? My campus serves hundreds of first generation students and immigrants. Often the FAFSA is the first government document they have had to use for such an important first step as attending college. Yes the FSA ID has given our students pains, but we work with them to help them understand not make them feel inadequate. Using a cell phone and completing a FAFSA with a FSA ID is completely different. Sure some might be taking the easy way out but so many just don't understand. Lets cut these students some slack and find our compassion again.

Amanda C | 3/10/2016 10:31:22 AM

Have to agree with John and James. It's as simple as READING. Dumbing down for a society that is too lazy to read basic instructions is not the answer. The greatest skill I ever learned in life is to READ.

I also work at a community college and we assist students with FAFSA completion daily. Multiple times daily. I have seen students who read the instructions breeze right thru the FSA ID creation process and I have seen students who have a seat, glance at the screen and want us to do it for them. We leave them alone in the lab and tell them to let us know if they need assistance and they are back within minutes needing help because "its not working". Amazing how it works when we hold their hand and read for them and walk them thru it.

Joel L | 3/10/2016 10:23:05 AM

I work at a community college that had trouble with students completing the FAFSA before the FSA ID. With the FSA ID, our issues have at least doubled. It has far and away become the most difficult and tedious part of the FAFSA process. You can still have solid security without making the process so painful. FSA needs to make some adjustments.

James T | 3/10/2016 10:22:56 AM

I for one do not get this at all. These students are the most technologically advanced humans on our planet, when I do FASFA sessions at the high schools and at the college, I ask a simple question how many of you have I phones, in each case 98% of the students raise their hands, then I ask them how many think they are computer literate. The all raise their hands. This is from a community college session. What happens with the FAFSA, the student does not want to take the responsibility for what is being done, as most parents do it for them and secondly most of these families do not want to read what is given to them as instructions.
The less that the students are responsible the better they like it and if they can find someone to blame they will, as they are becoming responsible for nothing.

Why don't we make financial aid dirt simple, when a student graduates from whatever source say like high school, the government just automatically gives them the following: if they want to go to community college: $10,000, if they want to go to 4 year public $25,000, and if they want to go to 4 year private: $60,000. Once that is spent the student is DONE. OOPS I guess no one would be responsible for their completion, etc. As finance would no longer be the issue, or the smoke screen that is used.

Shirley S | 3/10/2016 9:31:02 AM

I was working with a family of twins. The parent and student had already set up their FSA User ID's. When it came time to submit the FAFSA, one of the twins application was able to be submitted, but the other twin's was not due to issues with the parents FSA ID. One of the twins may lose out on the DC Tag scholarship because of the FSA ID.

Mary S | 3/10/2016 9:22:17 AM

Just yesterday I worked with a student and her father. We had to set up an FSA ID and User Name for this gentlemen whose first language is Spanish. This is a legal immigrant by the way. This gentleman does not have an email address and never will. We were able to complete the process for him and complete the FAFSA. But it would have been difficult for this family had we not assisted.

Henry Q | 3/10/2016 8:50:42 AM

The FSA ID has definitely impacted FAFSA completion rates at the community college where I work. Our students are sufficiently web-savvy enough to secure an FSA ID, but many of them are first-generation college students, and they struggle with helping their parents understand and get through the process. These concerns do have substance!

John G | 3/10/2016 8:43:18 AM

Simplicity versus security seems to be the complaint and I bluntly don't understand it. If people want to log into the FAFSA website with their Facebook ID then I don't think that's going to happen. These measures were taken for OUR safety and to think that people are having difficulty with such a simple process makes me more concerned about the "make everything easy" attitude I am seeing more of each day I work in financial aid.

Melissa M | 3/10/2016 8:34:31 AM

We have had hundreds of students and parents that are having such difficulty with the FSA ID. Many are having a hard time completing their FAFSA and many are having a hard time remembering their information. Some students we can't help because either they don't know which email was used, or don't know their challenge questions because it was set up by someone else. This has been very frustrating and just adds another challenge to students trying to obtain financial help.

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