Tag archive for "FAFSA"

FAFSA, Money

Introducing the Streamlined FAFSA

No Comments 16 January 2017

Multiple organizations understand that the FAFSA application process is complicated and may present barriers to college access for many students. For this reason, the National College Access Network (NCAN) has created the Streamlined FAFSA. The FAFSA is a free a universal form for students to fill out in order to apply for financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education. NCAN’s model eliminates unnecessary and redundant questions in order to maintain FAFSA’s original purpose, which is to serve as the premier and free form to apply for financial aid.

Applying for the FAFSA is a complicated process, with only about 44 percent of students completing the form. This means about $24 billion goes unclaimed in federal aid, which includes $2.7 billion in Pell Grants. NCAN recognizes that there are several barriers for students completing the FAFSA. Chief among them is a lack of understanding the application process, overly complex questions and the length of the FAFSA. These issues cause barriers for many applicants, especially first-generation students.

The Streamlined FAFSA eliminates these issues by providing a shortened series of eligibility and demographic questions for applicants. An updated Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) and expanded access to the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) allows many identifying and financial questions to be automatically filled in, which saves the applicant time and reduces errors.

The Streamlined FAFSA reduces the number of questions by guiding students down one of three paths. Pathway one has as few as 20 questions for applicants from families who receive benefits from eligible federal means-tested programs. This means that these individuals automatically can skip all financial questions and receive the maximum Pell Grant award.

Pathway two has no more than 23 questions for applicants who do not participate in means-tested benefit programs and do not file a schedule with their taxes. Pathway three includes 25 questions for students who file tax schedules with their taxes.

NCAN’s Streamlined FAFSA is outperforming the current FAFSA. Independent testing of the NCAN model shows a 56 percent lower error rate, a 39 percent improvement in completion times and 50 percent fewer questions to answer.

Transparency has been increased and uncertainty is reduced in the FAFSA filing process because of the streamlined FAFSA. This model could increase Pell Grant expenditures by nearly 5.1 percent and increase FAFSA completion by 7.4 percent.

With 85 percent of four-year college students receiving financial aid, a simplified FAFSA application process is vital. The streamlined FAFSA could ensure that needy students have the access to financial aid.


Foster Youth Lack Access to College

No Comments 15 November 2016

According to a report from the Education Commission of the States, Strengthening Policies for Foster Youth Postsecondary Attainment, only 3 percent of the 415,000 children in foster care will ever graduate college with a Bachelor’s degree, compared with 32.5 percent of the U.S. population aged 25 and older. Only 46 percent of foster youth graduate from high school, compared with 88.4 percent of the U.S. population aged 25 and old.

There have been some improvements in financial aid for foster youth. The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 established the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP). The Education Training Vouchers program was added to CFCIP in 2002. The 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (FCA) also improved college access for foster children. Changes were made to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in July 2009 to help foster children.

The Education Training Voucher (ETV) program provides up to $5,000 per year for college students who are in foster care, were adopted from foster care after reaching age 16, or aged out of foster care. They must have obtained a high school diploma or GED, reapply annually and maintain satisfactory academic progress. The funds are available for enrollment in a 2-year or 4-year college or university or for enrollment in accredited vocational and technical training programs. Eligible students may receive grants for up to five years or until they reach age 23. Apply through your state’s Child Welfare Agency. Some state programs are administered by Foster Care to Success.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) considers students to be independent if they were in foster care at any time after reaching age 13. These students are considered to be independent even if they were adopted at age 13 or older. The FAFSA also includes other questions designed to identify foster children so that they can be directed to resources available to them.

There are also scholarships and tuition waivers available to foster children. The state tuition waivers usually involve just tuition and not other costs, such as textbooks and living expenses.

The report from the Education Commission of the States made several recommendations for helping foster children pursue a college education:

  • Expand foster care to cover students beyond age 18 who are enrolled in college
  • Eliminate tuition waiver requirements that are particularly challenging for foster children, such as requirements for financial contributions, volunteer service or maintaining a higher GPA than is required for federal student aid
  • Standardize eligibility criteria across states, with regard to age, deadlines, types of colleges, etc.
  • Expand state tuition waivers to cover other costs, such as textbooks, housing, transportation and childcare.


What is the Federal Pell Grant?

No Comments 15 November 2016

The Pell Grant is a federal grant that helps students from low-income households pay for college. Grants are a gift of money that does not need to be repaid.

The Federal Pell Grant provides up to about $6,000 per year for students who are enrolled in an undergraduate degree or certificate program at an accredited 2-year or 4-year college or university. The Pell Grant can be used to pay for a Bachelor’s degree, Associate’s degree or a certificate. Students who have already received a Bachelor’s degree are ineligible, except for students enrolled in some teacher certification programs.

The amount of the Pell Grant is based on the difference between the maximum Pell Grant and the expected family contribution (EFC). The Pell Grant amount is also based on the student’s enrollment status, reduced proportionately for students who are enrolled less than full-time.

There is a 12-term limit to the Pell Grant program, the equivalent of 6 years of full-time enrollment.

Students who are incarcerated in a federal or state penal institution are not eligible. Students who are subject to an involuntary civil commitment after incarceration for sexual offenses are also ineligible.

About a third of undergraduate students receive a Pell Grant each year. Most Pell Grant recipients have a family income under $50,000. Students with family income under $25,000 will usually qualify for the maximum Pell Grant.

Apply for the Pell Grant by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The Pell Grant is disbursed through the college. Eligible students can get a Pell Grant from just one college at a time. Colleges apply federal student aid funding, including the Pell Grant, first to tuition and fees and other direct college costs. Any remaining credit balance will be refunded to the student to pay for textbooks and other expenses.


FAFSA, Money

FAFSA Tips for Low-Income Students

No Comments 15 November 2016

Every low-income, first-generation and underrepresented student should follow a few simple tips about applying for financial aid to help pay for college. They should always apply for financial aid, even if they think they are ineligible or don’t need it. They should apply for financial aid every year and apply early, to increase the amount of grants they get and allow them to work less. They can simplify the process by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. They should ask for help if they encounter problems.

Tip 1: Apply for Financial Aid Every Year

Every student should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year. The financial aid formulas are complicated, so it is difficult to know whether you will qualify without applying first. For example, the number of children in your family in college at the same time has a big impact on the amount of financial aid you get.

Tip 2: Get Grants So You Can Work Less

The FAFSA provides access to federal and state grants, such as the Federal Pell Grant. Students who qualify for grants may be able to work less, which increases the likelihood of graduating from college. Students who work a full-time job are half as likely to graduate within 150% of the normal time-frame, as compared with students who work 12 hours or less per week. Even working just a few hours less each week will help, since every extra hour that can be devoted to academics increases the likelihood of graduating.

If a student will be quitting their job to enroll in college full-time, they should appeal to the college’s financial aid administrator for an adjustment to the financial aid package. Financial aid administrators can substitute an estimate of income during the academic year for actual income during the base year. If income has decreased, this should yield an increase in the amount of financial aid the student receives.

Tip 3: Always Apply for Financial Aid

Unfortunately, you can’t get aid if you don’t apply. Each year, millions of students don’t file the FAFSA. One third of them, about 2 million students, would have qualified for the Federal Pell Grant. Two thirds of these students, about 1.3 million students, would have qualified for the maximum Federal Pell Grant. Collectively, they are leaving more than $10 billion in federal, state and institutional grants on the table.

It is unclear why millions of Pell-eligible students don’t file the FAFSA. Some students said that they thought that they were ineligible or had no financial need, did not want to take on debt, had no idea how to apply for financial aid or felt that applying for financial aid was too much work. Some students may they think they can work their way through college, because they are working a full-time job while enrolled part-time at low-cost public colleges, such as community colleges. Independent students may not have the luxury of being able to quit their jobs to go back to college full-time. But, perhaps they could work shorter hours if they qualified for college grants.

Tip 4: Apply for Financial Aid Early

Even when low-income students file the FAFSA, they tend to file the FAFSA later than middle- and high-income students. Only about a third (33%) of low-income students file the FAFSA during the first three months of the application season, compared with more than half (58%) of middle-income students and more than two-thirds (71%) of high-income students. Students should file the FAFSA as soon as possible after the October 1 start date, to avoid missing priority aid deadlines and early state deadlines. For example, a dozen states award state grants on a first-come, first-served basis until the funds are depleted. Low-income students miss out on billions of dollars of state and institutional grants each year because they file the FAFSA too late.

Tip 5: Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to Simplify the FAFSA and Avoid Verification

Low-income students should also take advantage of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool when filing the FAFSA. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool transfers information from federal income tax returns to the FAFSA. Not only does this simplify the FAFSA, but it also reduces the likelihood that the student’s FAFSA will be selected for verification. Any data element that is transferred unmodified from a federal income tax return will not be subject to verification.

Many low-income students find it challenging to get through verification. They may be the first in their family to go to college, and their parents may resist providing financial information multiple times. Or, their parents may be incarcerated, institutionalized or disabled, so getting the information needed for verification may be challenging. Every time you ask for information, it erects a new barrier to college access.

If the student’s FAFSA is selected for verification, they may be required to provide an IRS tax return transcript. The online IRS Get a Transcript tool is not friendly to low-income students who do not have a stable permanent address. The IRS Get a Transcript tool can be used to mail the tax return transcript to the address on the federal income tax return. If the taxpayer wants an online copy, has moved since the tax return was filed or wants the tax transcript sent to the address of the financial aid office, they will need to verify their identity by providing a financial account number (e.g., credit card, mortgage, home equity loan or car loan) and a mobile phone number, both in the taxpayer’s name. Otherwise, they will need to file IRS Form 4506-T on paper, which can take weeks to process.

Tip 6: Ask for Help

Completing a complicated form can be challenging, especially one as detailed as the FAFSA. Luckily, there are many sources of free help completing the FAFSA. Counselors and mentors are available to answer student and parent questions. The U.S. Department of Education sponsors a toll-free hotline, 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243), to answer questions about federal student aid and the FAFSA. The National College Access Network (NCAN) provides free financial aid workshops and one-on-one help completing the FAFSA through Form Your Future.

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