October 29, 2018 — Navigating the process of applying for federal financial aid to pay for college can be challenging, particularly for the lowest income students. But on the heels of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, comes another daunting and often redundant task: verifying that the information is correct. In a new issue brief, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators outlines the roadblocks that have prevented a meaningful and streamlined way to verify financial aid applicant data, and how lawmakers can take steps to responsibly decrease the burden on students and protect taxpayer dollars.
Using selection criteria determined by the Department of Education, students are required to complete verification, a process intended to improve the accuracy of students’ FAFSA data and ensure that the right students get the right amount of money. But the process has instead created a complicated web of questionable and unnecessary steps for the families who are most in need of financial aid.
This additional step is confusing and time-consuming for students and families. And while the Department of Education has expressed interest in decreasing the complexity of verification over the years, a series of setbacks has created a “one step forward, two steps back” pattern of recent adjustments.
To preserve the integrity of federal student aid programs, while relieving the burden on low-income students and financial aid administrators, Congress can:
Apply pressure to the Department of Education to ensure greater transparency on verification selection rates, the necessity of VONF, and the degree to which verification detects significant submission errors.
Work with the Department of Education to reinstate the the 30 percent cap on verification.
Fix the FAFSA. Simplifying and improving the FAFSA by expanding the use of the IRS DRT to include all 1040 line items and by auto-importing data already considered verified by other federal agencies, such as receipt of certain means-tested benefits, would greatly reduce the need for verification and its impact on low-income applicants.
"Verifying the accuracy of information submitted on applications for federal student aid is an important and necessary step to take in ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly,” NASFAA President Justin Draeger said. “But over the last several years, the Department of Education has been unable to strike the right balance between maintaining program integrity and placing unnecessary barriers in front of needy students. With the help of Congress, a few common sense measures can greatly reduce—or even eliminate—the need for the overly complex and burdensome verification process."
NASFAA policy experts are available to speak more about the verification process and the importance of simplifying the FAFSA. To set up an interview, please email Erin Powers, NASFAA director of marketing and communications at [email protected] or call (202) 785-6959.
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents more than 20,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every ten undergraduates in the United States. Based in Washington, D.C., NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aid legislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators. For more information, visit www.nasfaa.org.
Publication Date: 10/29/2018