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Monday, November 12, 2018

Campus

Students miss out on billions with daunting FAFSA process


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Students shell out thousands of dollars each semester to cover the costs of tuition, books and fees. Completing the FAFSA could help them access money to alleviate their debt.| Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

With the Free Application for Federal Student Aid deadline looming, many students have yet to fill out their applications, costing them billions collectively in aid.

According to a study conducted by Edvisors, two million students did not file the FAFSA in 2011-2012 and missed out on about $9.5 billion in aid.

Students who filed their FAFSA in January, February or March received twice as much funding as students who filed later, according to the study, which found that “more than 1.1 million students might have received as much as $3.8 billion more in state and institutional grants had they filed the FAFSA during the first three months of the FAFSA application cycle.”

The reason many students are passing up the opportunity for financial aid assistance is that the FAFSA application is a long, strenuous process requiring tax information many students are not prepared to submit.

“The FAFSA process is closely tied to the completion of people’s federal tax returns and these two items are complex and lengthy,” Executive Director of Scholarships and Financial Aid Salvador Loria said.

More than 30,000 UH students receive financial aid assistance, leaving 10,000 or so students to pay tuition without any sort of aid.

“I don’t know anybody at UH who doesn’t have FAFSA issues,” mechanical engineering senior Anas Ebrahim said. “(If the process was simpler), it would be less discouraging.”

In order to ensure students receive FAFSA funds, tools have been put in place to ease the process. With the press of a button, the new IRS data retrieval tool fills out a person’s tax information by linking their FAFSA account to the application.

Despite this loophole, many students are unable to use the tool because it asks for last year’s tax data — by the time students fill out their forms, their taxes have yet to be filed.

“We encourage people to complete their taxes as early as possible so they can use this information to correctly complete the FASFA application,” Loria said. “Once students and parents have their taxes completed, the task of filling out the FAFSA is much simpler, and there is less room for errors.”

Students are also able to use tax information from the “prior-prior year” — tax information from two years ago instead of one — softening the time crunch.

Despite the benefits of a shorter FAFSA application and the ability to use prior-prior information, the U.S. Department of Education has yet to make any moves toward legislation altering the FAFSA process.

In the meantime, UH’s Financial Aid Office is available to assist students. The office has implemented an online chat service staffed with trained financial aid professionals.

“We are committed to helping students and their families meet their educational goals,” Loria said. “We encourage students to contact us if that have questions with any part of the FAFSA process.”

[email protected]

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