Federal aid verification process leaving low-income students vulnerable to delays, denials

College administrators have voiced concerns that low-income students frustrated by the federal aid verification process are abandoning their applications for financial aid, Inside Higher Ed reports. Financial aid experts suggest that the federal government’s approach to verifying income eligibility for aid disproportionately targets the most vulnerable students. Faced with the cumbersome process of verifying income eligibility for federal aid, those students may give up altogether, weakening their chances of earning a college degree.

“How many times does a student or parent have to repeatedly prove they are poor?” Michael Bennett, St. Petersburg College’s associate vice president of financial assistance services asked Inside Higher Ed. “Verification for our lowest-income students is a barrier to access, and when aid is delayed because of excessive verification, access may be denied. Is this what we want?”

Nearly one-third of applicants face verification

The Department of Education seeks to verify the eligibility of about 30 percent of all students who complete the FAFSA. According to the National College Access Network (NCAN), around 50 percent of the low-income high school seniors who submit the FAFSA will be chosen for federal aid verification. About 90,000 of them—or 22 percent—will ultimately decide not to apply for federal financial aid, citing the FAFSA’s complexity or confusion about the process.

“Many of our students think when they get a verification notice that it’s some kind of ineligibility notice,” NCAN Executive Director Kim Cook told Inside Higher Ed. “It’s very frustrating for us as access and success advisors to get students to be aware of financial aid at the federal, state, or institutional level, get them to complete the FAFSA, and then face this back-end burden that is actually harder than the FAFSA itself.”

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