Securing financial aid can be a very lengthy and difficult process. Apart from not being streamlined, the process itself can be extremely stressful for the students. Given the steps required in it, there is a lot policymakers can do to improve. At the moment, students who want to go to college and don’t have resources to do have three options available to them. These options have been outlined by the National College Access Network, the education Trust, NASFAA and the Urban institute. These options are aimed at providing students with the adequate information so informed decisions can be made on their part.
Simplify The Financial Aid Process
A paper called, “Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery” (RADD) was released containing information about the strategies that could simplify the Financial Aid Process. It is supported by a consortium grant from the notable Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and focuses on the following strategies
Development of an awareness system that provides timely information to low-income students. This will help them know about their aid eligibility and be in a better position to submit their applications
FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid
The [prior-prior year (PPY) income to apply to FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application.
Completion rates of Pell Grant recipients to be enhanced.
Although all of these strategies are pretty basic, their absence hindered a lot of students from going to the college of their dreams. As a proponent of equal opportunity for low-income, first-generation and people of color, it is hoped that these steps will go a long way to ensure quality education for everyone regardless of their background.
Financial Aid Options
We have seen that a lot of students do not enroll into college after graduating high school and there can be a number of reasons behind it. To begin with, most students believe that higher education is so expensive that opting for it is out of question. This misconception discourages them from even looking at their options.
This is perhaps the primary reason that students need to be made aware of their financial aid options. Knowing what route to take will help you prepare and give you ample time to weigh your options in terms of what college to go for. According to the paper, plenty of federal means-tested programs can be utilized to reach out to families. The free-and reduced-price lunch program, Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are some of them to name a few.
If you want to ensure that the outreach yields maximum results, the information has to reach a large number of people at the right time. A good way to do that is to use as many programs as you can to notify the low-income students of their options and involve their families.
A very common pattern of bypassing applying to particular colleges exist. This is chiefly because of the timing of FAFSA application. Earlier, the students used to apply for colleges and then see what financial aid options are available to them. Right now, it is the vice versa. The application to colleges is dependent on how much federal aid a student can receive and it makes more sense.
The FAFSA Application is considered to be complex by many students which is why many don’t even complete it and hence are unable to get any type of post-secondary education.
PPY – Prior-Prior Year
The White House also endorsed the usage of prior-prior year (PPY) income data for FAFSA applications from the 2017-18 year. This policy will help students submit their financial aid applications by October 1 than waiting till January. This way they’ll know sooner about the aid offers before them and take their sweet time to make a decision. A number of higher education entities such as the NASFAA have advocated for PPY to be used for applications as it eases the FAFSA process.
To simplify the process further, there is a need to explore data sharing and getting URS cooperation on it. The U.S. Department of Education can be a force in this regard and help develop a mechanism that works for everyone.
The author of the paper is of the opinion that college choices can be improved by using information on Pell Grant recipient graduation rates. It is because of the lack of information on the graduation rates that students are unable to take a decision to secure their future. It is also detrimental towards the policymakers who are responsible for making the program effective.
The Education Trust released a report which compared the graduation results of Pell Grant Recipients and non-Pell Grant recipients to find a graduation gap of 5.7% between the two at the institutional level. At the national level, the difference between both student groups was 14%.
The RADD paper authors think that the graduation gaps don’t matter much to students as they it is better for them to a school that cater well to all students, they do matter to policymakers; especially because they are trying to improve the process and make education accessible to low-income students.
Provision of Incentives
A good way to combat this problem will be to encourage schools with low graduation rate gaps and high graduation rates to take low-income students. This can be done through provision of incentives. This also applies to schools with low gaps and low overall graduation rates.
Getting into the college of your choice is not a piece of cake and requires a lot of effort. However, having additional barriers because of a students’ financial background and lack of wealth is unfair. We hope that the steps, if taken together, can decrease the hindrance that low-income students face when trying to study further.
If the students are aware that they have options to attend college, they will be willing to pursue financial aid and will eventually enroll into an institution that can help their career and future prospects.
If you want to learn more about the steps taken by NASFAA to address the disparities in the opportunities offered to students, reach out to us directly by clicking here.