Friday, August 5, 2016

The surprising reason college students aren’t applying for financial aid

FROM MARKETWATCH.COM

One in five college students may be leaving money on the table.

Roughly 20% of undergraduate students didn’t apply for financial aid during the 2011 to 2012 academic year, according to an analysis released this week by the National Center for Education Statistics. The study adds to the robust body of evidence that many students who could be eligible for grants and loans to help them pay for college don’t fill out the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA), the gateway form that unlocks that money for students.

But perhaps the most interesting insights from the new research are the reasons students gave for not applying for aid. The most common factor cited by students was the concern that they wouldn’t be eligible for it at 44%, followed closely by 43% of students who said they believed they were able to afford college without assistance. Just 9% of students said the forms were too much work.

Over the past few years, policy makers on both sides of the aisle have worked to simplify the FAFSA and they recently scored a major victory on this front that will take effect this year. Starting with the upcoming application cycle, families will be able to use financial information from two years prior to the year they’re applying for, making it more likely they’ll have a completed tax return on hand to draw from.


Of course, it’s dangerous to put too much weight into surveys of college students, but their answers indicate that this major policy focus may be less of a barrier to financial aid for students then some other factors. It’s likely that easing the path to financial aid will encourage more students to apply, but the survey data released this week highlights why these changes may not be enough to move the needle. Some education advocates have argued that moving to a system where public college is free is a more effective way to ensure all students get access to aid -- regardless of whatever misinformation they have about their eligibility.

But at this point, experts agree students should fill out the form no matter what they believe about their chances of qualifying.