Education / National

Quarterly Student Aid Report: two-thirds of freshmen FAFSA applicants list only one college on their applications

A troubling two-thirds of freshmen students filling out an original Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) designate only a single school to send their financial aid application information, indicating that they were only applying for admission to one school.

In new quarterly updates posted on the Education Department’s Federal Student Aid Data Center, 68 percent of freshmen students filling out the 2014-15 FAFSA listed only one college, indicating that they were only applying to one school.  Still, that’s better than the 80 percent who recorded just one school in 2008-09.

The quarterly report contains regular updates on the Department’s student loan portfolio, including repayment status and plan information. This quarter’s report also included new data on FAFSA completion.

“By focusing on only one school, students run the risk of being turned down for admission or losing out on better financial aid and educational opportunities from another school, with ramifications that can last a lifetime,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  “That one school might be the right fit, but why take a chance? Why not consider multiple schools and increase your options and opportunities?”

As President Obama told a town hall this fall in Des Moines, “There are a lot of good colleges and universities out there, and it’s important I think for everybody here to understand you can find a college or university that gives you a great education, and just because it’s not some name-brand, famous, fancy school doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get a great education there.”

Filling out the free form opens the door to potentially tens of thousands of dollars in federal aid.  With the appropriate documents in hand, it takes only 20 minutes on average to complete. The FAFSA also helps families share that information with colleges and universities.  For instance, it asks students to: “Indicate which colleges you want to receive your FAFSA information.”

The government provides nearly $130 billion a year in federal student aid, which includes Pell grants for low-income students, as well as federal student loans that come with benefits and protections not available in the private market.

And, the FAFSA is the only form needed to make students eligible for this aid.

Since taking office, the Obama Administration has made it significantly easier for students and families to fill out the form. The Administration has revamped the online form for all families so they can skip questions that are not relevant to them. In addition, millions of students and parents took advantage of the ability to electronically retrieve their income information from the IRS when completing their 2014-2015 FAFSA, an innovation that improves both speed and accuracy. In September, the White House announced a plan to make the financial aid process even easier and available earlier. The Administration has also championed tools like the College Scorecard to give students and families better information about the options available to them in picking a school.

While application fees may be an obstacle to some students applying to multiple schools, many schools waive school application fees for students with financial need while some schools do not charge any application fees at all.

Following are some other highlights from the latest Federal Student Aid Data Center quarterly updates.

  • In the wake of efforts by the Administration to simplify the FAFSA application process, students are filing earlier and more easily than ever.
  • Applicants are filing earlier than ever before. In 2014-2015, 43 percent of applicants filed in the first quarter of the application cycle compared to 37 percent back in 2006-2007.
  • Usage of the Internal Revenue Service’s Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) is at an all-time high.  Among 2014-2015 independent applicants who had filed their taxes, 58 percent used the tool; and among parents of dependent applicants, 46 percent used it. For independent students, usage has grown an average of six percentage points every year for the past three years, while for parents of dependent students, DRT usage has increased an average of seven percentage points annually over that period.
  • However, there are still millions of students and parents who file their FAFSA before their tax information is ready to be transferred with the new IRS Data Retrieval Tool.  With the move to fall FAFSA filings next year, and using earlier tax information, the vast majority of students will be able to use the IRS tool, making the FAFSA easier and simpler to complete.
  • Enrollment in Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plans continues to increase. As of September, more than 4.2 million Direct Loan borrowers were enrolled in IDR plans, a 50 percent increase from a year earlier and a 147 percent jump from September 2013.
  • Late payments are down. The rate of delinquent payments of 31 days or more dropped from 24 percent of loan recipients in active repayment on Sept. 30, 2014 to 21.7 percent on Sept. 30, 2015.  Likewise, the percent of 31-day or greater delinquencies by total dollar balance fell from 18.1 percent on Sept. 30, 2014 to 16.4 percent a year later.

For more details about this data release and important details to note in reviewing the data, please see the full Information for Financial Aid Professionals (IFAP) notice.