There has been a lot of discussion of simplifying the FAFSA. The argument is that too many low-income students don’t apply because they are intimidated by the process, don’t understand that they can qualify for significant grant aid, or don’t have all of the required information. All of these are legitimate concerns that can be resolved without reducing the application to the size of a postcard.
What have I got against simplifying the FAFSA? Nothing!
If the first two questions can qualify students for federal aid without answering any other questions, great! People just need to realize that all those other questions have to do with the aid the college decides to award and not the federal government.
If a student is planning on starting at a community college, the rest of the questions are probably irrelevant. The problem is that when a school is giving away its own money, it wants more information.
This isn’t unreasonable on their part since the grants they offer can easily be two to four times the amount of federal grants a student may qualify for. Therefore, if colleges can’t get the additional information from the FAFSA, they’ll have to collect it from somewhere else. This means that the student will have to complete an additional form and more than likely pay for processing the application.
We already know what this process can look like since over 150 colleges and universities use an alternative financial aid form called the PROFILE. Any students who apply to these schools must complete the FAFSA for federal and state aid and the PROFILE for institutional aid.
The PROFILE asks more questions than the FAFSA and students have to pay for processing and a fee for each school they send it to. In other words, families are paying to provide even more financial information than the FAFSA.
Because the colleges that require the PROFILE include some of the most elite in the country. They are also the ones most likely to meet financial need.
However, the PROFILE requirement isn’t limited to just the most exclusive colleges. Of the 432 50-50 Colleges, 52 require students to submit the PROFILE.
Are students better off submitting the PROFILE? It’s hard to say. If you just compare the private 50-50 colleges (only one public school uses the PROFILE), a higher percentage of freshman, 96.2%, receive institutional aid at non-PROFILE schools than at PROFILE schools, 87.6%. However, non-PROFILE schools have a higher percentage of needy students. At non-PROFILE schools, 30.3% of freshman receive Pell Grants compared to only 21% at PROFILE schools.
If you just look at the average net price for students in the lowest income category at private schools, there isn’t much difference. For students with family incomes of $30,000 or less, the average net price is $19,941 at PROFILE schools. At non-PROFILE schools, the average is $19,056.
Given that the private 50-50 colleges that require the PROFILE have almost twice the average endowment per student of private non-PROFILE schools, you have to wonder why they don’t have a high percentage of Pell Grant students. It doesn’t seem to be because they give them significantly more money.
This probably shouldn’t be surprising. After all, if the FAFSA is considered intimidating, the PROFILE can be considered terrifying. And students don’t know if they will qualify for fee waivers until after they have submitted their information.
Therefore, the question is will the increase in the number of students qualifying for federal aid by simplifying the FAFSA be offset by a reduction of lower-income students attending institutions with a separate financial aid application?
The truth is that the answer is irrelevant for families applying to colleges NOW. So the following table lists all 50-50 Colleges that require the PROFILE to be eligible for institutional aid. As usual, the 4-year graduation rate is used for private schools, the 5-year rate for public.