EPI's weekly illustration of education data trends — December 26, 2018

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Why Students Did Not Complete the FAFSA


For years, student access advocates have protested that the complexity of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or the FAFSA, has restricted access to financial aid, and by extension, postsecondary education. Various efforts have been made to simply the FAFSA. As new data from the US Department of Education illustrates, the complexity of the FAFSA is, in actuality, the lowest barrier or reason that students list for not completing the form.

This analysis took ninth-grade students from 2009 and followed them up in 2013. Of that group, only nine percent of those ninth-grade students declared that the FAFSA was "too much work or too time-consuming" to complete. The biggest reason, according to the students, was that they could afford college without financial aid, therefore the FAFSA was unnecessary (33 percent). Second highest was their estimation that they would be ineligible for federal student aid (32 percent), followed by not wanting to take on new debt (28 percent), did not have enough information on completing the FAFSA (23 percent), and no plans to go to college (22 percent).

Some of these issues remain critical barriers to college via affordability and financial aid. The fact that a student opts out of the FAFSA because they may incorrectly assume they do not qualify is a problem, as is not having enough information. These are areas that the federal government can help with, but ultimately become a "college knowledge" and advising issue in middle and high school.

But perhaps the argument that the FAFSA is too complicated can be put to bed for good and focus can be put on other meaninful strategies to reduce the barriers to postsecondary education.

SOURCE: Bahr, S., Sparks, D., & Hoyer, K. (2018). "Why Didn’t Students Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? A Detailed Look." Stats in Brief. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.



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