Wed. Nov 13th, 2019

FAFSA leads to success

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Research shows that students wanting to improve their odds of graduating college should file a federal student aid application (FAFSA). Jan. 1 is the first day any student may submit a FAFSA to be eligible for a share of the estimated $248 billion in federal, state and college aid for the 2016-17 academic year.
Numerous academic research studies since 1988 have consistently found that receiving financial aid helps prevent undergraduate students of all incomes from dropping out of community and four-year colleges.
Students who submit a FAFSA have a 72 percent greater chance of staying in college than their peers who do not file for the aid form, according to the 2011 study “The Consequences of Leaving Money on the Table: Examining Persistence among Students Who Do Not File a FAFSA” by Lyle McKinney, Ph.D., assistant professor of higher education at the University of Houston, and Heather Novak, Ph.D., statistical analyst for the Office of Institutional Research.
The positive effect of filing a FAFSA is even more significant for lower-income students eligible for the free, federal Pell Grant. As FAFSA filers, these students’ graduation rates were 122 percent higher than lower-income students who did not file a FAFSA, McKinney and Novak found.
“Findings from our study show that failure to complete this important first step in the financial aid process has a negative association with the persistence rates of first-year students who attend college full-time, particularly those who are lower-income.
“Therefore, it is critically important that all students who would benefit from receiving financial aid complete the FAFSA,” McKinney and Novak conclude.
Millions of eligible students leave aid money on the table.
The vast majority of college applicants and college students are eligible for some type of financial aid regardless of income. However, despite the significant amount of college-persistence evidence and billions in available funds, each year about 8 million students eligible for aid don’t prepare a FAFSA.
“Every year, unfortunately millions of college students miss out on the opportunity to receive financial aid simply because they do not file a FAFSA,” state McKinney and Novak stated in their 2013 study “FAFSA Filing Among First-Year College Students: Who Files on Time, Who Doesn’t, and Why Does it Matter?”
Too few students – especially high school students and students from lower-income households – aren’t educated about how to access financial aid and select aid options that will serve them best. Students often are not aware of the FAFSA or where to get help with completing it. A federal regulation offers students two options for preparing a FAFSA – either complete it for free on the U.S. Department of Education’s website, or get professional assistance from a FAFSA preparer who, much like an income tax preparer, charges a fee for the service. There are also a diversity college-access organizations and initiatives that provide FAFSA assistance each year, such as College Goal Sunday and California Cash for College. (Additional organizations are listed at FAFSA.com as Free FAFSA Assistance Services).
As the gateway to all federal and state student aid, a FAFSA can make a sizable impact on college costs. For example, the maximum, free Pell Grant covered 30 percent of average tuition, fees, room and board for a four-year college last academic year, according to Trends in Student Aid.
Also, by not preparing a FAFSA, high-achieving, low-income students can lose out on exceptional offers, such as the loan-limiting policies offered by more than 48 colleges that award needy students more in grants, which don’t need repayment.
“We advocate improving education policies and practices to encourage more students to prepare FAFSA every year of college to help ensure they graduate,” said Christina Kline, vice president of Student Financial Aid Services, Inc.

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