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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: FAFSA

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July 22, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Even the feds screw up FAFSA: Online glitch affects thousands

About 200,000 would-be college students, most of them low-income, may have received incorrect financial aid offers because of a recently-discovered glitch on the government’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, better known as the FAFSA.

The problem came to light earlier this month after colleges and universities began noticing lots of applicants with questionable salaries entered in the box marked “Income Earned from Work”. That is, salaries that looked puzzlingly high for students seeking financial aid.

Turns out that thousands of students — apparently trying to respond to the FAFSA with utmost accuracy — entered summer-job or after-school incomes down to the penny. But the form was supposed to accept only whole-dollar amounts.

The result? Incomes of $5,000.19 showed up as $500,019 — an enormous difference, and one that would almost certainly affect eligibility for financial aid.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: FAFSA, financial aid, higher ed

June 24, 2014 at 5:00 AM

108 questions — or just 2? Maybe a shorter FAFSA could do the job

High-school seniors at Kent Meridian High School get help applying for scholarships and filling out the FAFSA. Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times 2012.

High-school seniors at Kent Meridian High School get help applying for scholarships and filling out the FAFSA. Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times 2012.

Like a research paper on the DNA sequence of fruit flies, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — commonly known as the FAFSA — is daunting enough that the name alone inspires dread.

Officially, the financial aid form is supposed to take less than an hour to complete. Yet its instructions are as dense as its acronym, and once the form is submitted there’s no easy way to know if you’ve made a mistake.

Researchers believe these problems are dissuading millions of potential college students, who blanch at the 108-question form and walk away. In 2007-08, for example, roughly 2 million eligible students did not complete the FAFSA application for Pell scholarships — missing out on college grants of up to $5,645, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

“Rather than promote access, student aid often creates a series of barriers — a gauntlet that the poorest students must run to get to college,” says a Congressional report from 2005.

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February 14, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Students leaving financial aid on the table, site says ‘get yours’

Does the idea of filling out government financial aid forms leave you cold? Consider logging onto the Get Schooled this weekend, where a cheery set of videos (featuring First Lady Michelle Obama) and step-by-step instructions from advisers willing to work with students online could provide the necessary boost.

That’s a very good thing, because 1 million students who qualify for college money never file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (better known as FAFSA), and leave thousands of dollars on the table.

Despite its name, the FAFSA is not a single program, but rather the gateway for nine federal student-aid programs, 605 state-aid programs and most of the financial aid available through individual colleges and universities.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: FAFSA, financial aid, higher ed