Tuesday, September 29, 2009



Word has it that my state is considering requiring students to file FAFSA (Federal financial aid) forms as a condition of admission to a cc.

The idea, as near as I can figure, is not to leave any Federal money on the table.

That said, I have one reaction:


This is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.

First, it's a paperwork nightmare. If you're willing to plunk down cash on the barrel to take a class (or two, or four) with us, what's the problem? The FAFSA takes hours to complete, and requires a significant level of financial disclosure. If you don't want aid anyway, why jump through the hoop?

Second, experience tells me that when confronted with irrelevant forms, students lie. They put in bogus information just to get over it, and to preserve their own pride in the face of what would otherwise be demeaning. In some contexts, that might not matter much. But here, the federal regs require us to follow up on any discrepancies on the forms. That means that if an annoyed student gives "69 Hershey Highway" as an address, we actually have to devote staff time (read: money) to investigate it.

Now, if a student doesn't want aid and gives bad information, it's a pretty safe bet that she won't get any. But we'll still have to process the forms and investigate the claims. That means hiring more staff -- that's "administrative overhead" for those keeping score at home -- to follow up on claims that won't get funded anyway. In the name of not leaving money on the table, we'll have to hire more back-office workers and pay them. Not good.

And it's not like the local financial aid staff is sitting on its hands, wishing for something to do. Combine 'enrollment boom' with 'massive recession,' and you get a truly impressive backlog of applications as it is. Our FA office is already straining. Adding thousands of frivolous applications to an already-overwhelming load wouldn't help.

The Obama administration has committed to simplifying the form, and I honestly hope they do. But even a simplified form would require record-keeping, investigation of discrepancies, and close auditing. Scaling up these costs to include people who don't want aid anyway is a deadweight cost.

If access to higher education is the desired goal, give us the operating budgets to run more classes and keep tuition down. If cost-shifting to the Feds is the goal, let us raise tuition substantially to capture the entirety of the new Pell grant caps. Either way would be both simpler and more effective, and would result in a more robust set of options for prospective students. Those students who need it could apply for aid; those who don't need it could just pay their tuition and go to class. But increasing our costs for back-office staff, while cutting our operating budgets, will not improve access. All it will do is irritate students and create bigger budgetary holes.

No, thanks.

It is simple, the process is not about education, or even helping your institution. The goal is to provide more government jobs.
I don't support tying tuition to Pell Grant limits -- not all of us who attend or whose spouses attend a community college qualify for Pell Grants.

I for one am tired of the rapidly escalating college costs. Don't use this as an excuse to raise them again. Ugh. Community colleges are valuable; let's keep them that way.

BTW, "Federal Money" also includes Stafford loans I'm sure. If you really want to annoy students, make them fill out all of that paperwork just to find out that all they qualify for are student loans. Joy. If they need them, that's great -- they would have filed anyway. But loans are far from the financial aid jackpot.
Wow. The FAFSA form makes anything from the IRS look easy. It was a nightmare for us to fill out even though we are probably above the norm in smarts and education. This would be a disaster for many students who could least afford it.
In my state, we leave significant amounts of Fed money on the table because students refuse to complete the FAFSA. I agree that if students don't want ANY aid from the university, they should most certainly not be forced to complete the onerous form.

However, if they want any aid at all from my state U (including private donor money that we administer), I believe quite strongly that they should have to FAFSA. It's ridiculous that we have to support students who gladly take our "private" money (which costs public money to pay, as it goes through the university budget system and someone who gets paid by the state has to fill out those forms) but refuse public money. And oh yeah, they drive on public roads and interstates to get here.

And my second point is that the feds simply have to revise the form or better yet, do away with it altogether and link it to tax forms. I think eligibility for fin aid should be a check box on the 1040 (EZ). It would open up access to people and the forms would not be so intrusive.
Oh good lord. Doesn't the FAFSA require a ton of information about not only the student's finances, but the parents, if the student is under 25 or whatever the age cutoff is? What if the parents refuse to fill out the form, does a student then just not get to go to your cc?
Doc Plot has a great idea, but it would probably cost several million dollars to add a single check box to the 1040 form and all of the electronic versions of it!

The FAFSA form, like 1040, merely reflects the underlying legislation with its protections against past fraud and special exemptions for various special cases that get added over the years. As I blogged some years ago, one simple fix for much of this is to require that every federal elected official, possibly including any appointee that has to be confirmed by Congress, fill out their own tax form. No preparers, no lawyers, no accountants, but you probably couldn't prevent the stealth use of software.

It would get cleaned up within a year.
Thus leaving the students who have parents unwilling to fill out the FAFSA completely out in the cold. I had two friends who couldn't get college aid because Divorced-and-Bitter Dad wanted to piss off/control Ex-Wife Mom and refused to fill out forms for Kid. I know one of them joined the military instead and I don't recall what the other one did.
My university's financial aid office is unable to process the financial aid forms/requests we get now. Requiring everyone to file FAFSA would sink them permanently.

Leaving money on the table may (or may not) be a bad idea, but this is not the solution.
On the same note as human and anonymous... a friend of mine just started college, at 25, after 7 years of working as a hostess, waitress, and coffee jockey, because she had the same fatherly problem plus a mom scared of the gummit.
This is a terrible idea, but I think it's terrible obviously enough that it won't go too far.
Oh please.

The FAFSA is NOT that hard to fill out. And doesn't it still work that the info just needs to be updated every year, thus making the first year's application the hardest?

I think the FAFSA should only be required if the students wants financial aid (which includes student loans), but not everyone NEEDS financial aid.

P.S. Regarding "experience tells me that when confronted with irrelevant forms, students lie" -- People who lie on government documents shouldn't be in college anyway. You should have the staff to vet all the forms in any case.
I lied on my FASFA. I was in graduate school and had to fill it out in order to pursue some other kind of loan (I don't remember the details now - it's been close to a decade). I knew I wouldn't qualify for aid because I had worked prior to school and had some money; my Mom would never get a figure to me on what she made. I "created" income amounts for my mom and dad just to get the stupid thing done. Should I have been booted out of Ivy League Grad School for it? In the grand scheme of things it seems a trifle ridiculous to suggest booting as a reasonable course of action.

On the other hand, I didn't think the form was all that bad. But maybe I just have a high threshold for paperwork pain.
Anonymous 6:30,

You're either lying or stupid.

Graduate students do not need to submit information of their parents on FAFSA forms. Being in grad school makes you automatically independent.

You really don't deserve that Ivy degree.
Anonymous 2:02 PM,

You don't need to resort to name calling. I am neither stupid nor lying. I was told explicitly by the financial aid office that I needed to include the information on my parents. At the time I thought it was ridiculous which was a motivating factor for deciding to lie. Thanks for the information that I needed 13 years late. You have been oh so helpful. It really doesn't matter because the FASFA of '99 certainly isn't keeping me up at night.

You're definitely right about one thing. I certainly don't have the skills for a PhD in bureaucratic BS. Good thing I decided on science instead.
Sorry - that should be '96 not '99 and both comments I wrote FASFA but it should have been FAFSA.
I didn't think the FAFSA was so bad. On the other hand, I had one job and credit union account when I filled it out.

Although making everyone fill it out seems kind of pointless to me.

Individual schools can ask your parents information on the FAFSA for their own purposes no matter how old you are. Some Ivy League Schools do that. My mom got an MLS at Columbia in the 80s in her forties. She had to have a meeting with the finacial aid office to convince them that she was really too old for her parents to pay for her schooling.

CCPhysicist the former Comptroller General David Walker considered it a point of pride that he did his own taxes on paper.
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