This new app may (finally) make completing the FAFSA easier

Daily Briefing

This new app may (finally) make completing the FAFSA easier

For years, colleges, universities, and state governments have worked to improve students’ access to and understanding of federal financial aid. However, roughly $2.3 billion in federal financial aid went unclaimed last year by Pell-eligible students.

The U.S. Department of Education hopes a smartphone app will make applying for federal financial aid easier, Cory Turner writes for NPR. The department opened the app, named myStudentAid, to first-time and returning college students on October 1st.

Students who fill out the FAFSA are more likely to attend and persist through college than those who don’t. But the students who stand to benefit the most from completing the FAFSA are also the least likely to fill out the form.

These students tend to come from low-income households and may be the first in their family to attend college. In low-income school districts, FAFSA completion rates decline by three percentage points for every 10-point increase in child poverty.

Low-income students often struggle to complete the FAFSA because they can only access a computer at school—where their parents can’t help them, writes Turner. “Many families, including low-income families, rely on smartphones solely for their internet access,” says Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network.

The app may also raise awareness about the importance of applying for federal student aid, says Cook. It allows counselors “to meet students where they are, at festivals, at football games. To meet parents where they are, maybe at brownbag lunches or financial aid nights,” she adds.

The department hopes the app will become a one-stop shop for students to research colleges, check their loan balance, make payments, and submit the form, writes Turner. “We want the experience of a student to be every bit as good as if they were a customer of American Express, a customer of a major credit union,” says A. Wayne Johnson, the chief strategy and transformation officer at the department’s office of Federal Student Aid.

In the app’s early user testing, “[s]tudents flew through [it],” Cook says. “It was amazing to see how native they are to using apps. They said the app was easy. Parents as well.”

While the app may make the FAFSA easier to access, the form itself remains overwhelmingly long, writes Turner. And unless Congress shortens and simplifies the FAFSA, some students still may be unable to get the financial aid they need, he adds (Turner, NPR, 9/25/18).

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