Should Colleges Require the FAFSA?

April 2, 2009 | Blog

Humor me — I want to float an idea and see what happens.

Put aside for the moment the fact that the U.S. Department of Education is considering significantly revising and/or eliminating the FAFSA. Take as a prior that this form is required to get financial aid. Also take as a prior that people tend to revert to “default” options rather than make special efforts, so we need to structure choices so that defaults result in positive rather than negative outcomes (thanks, behavioral economics and just-plain-sense people).

What if the FAFSA were a requirement for enrolling in college classes (perhaps to start at 4-year colleges with tuition exceeding $1000)? I mean AFTER admission, not before. You get into college, come to orientation and the University provides all the assistance necessary to help students complete the form, and processes it for everyone. If you don’t want to file, ok, but you’d need to check a box saying “no thanks.”

With FAFSA completion rates under 50% at many institutions, money is simply left on the table. Colleges worry about economic diversity but have no idea what the profile is of non-FAFSA-completers. And sometimes they want to direct special assistance at the lower-income crowds.

So why not help students and families overcome the barrier that is the FAFSA, and reward them for it?

Has anyone tried it? With what results? What are the pros and cons? Write in, let me know. Thanks!

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