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