The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) released findings from its survey that show students are starting to benefit from the Early Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which was implemented about five years ago.
NASFAA is a nonprofit professional organization for student financial aid administrators with more than 32,000 members at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. Between January 14 and 21, 2022, NASFAA distributed its survey to 2,621 member institutions about the timing and format of their financial aid offers. With a 16% response rate, the survey found that more than one third of the respondents said they sent initial financial aid offers to students before February 2022.
"The benefits of Early FAFSA are coming to fruition as students are able to apply for financial aid, and institutions are able to extend their aid offers sooner," said Justin Draeger, NASFAA's president and CEO, "Knowing months sooner what to expect financially also levels the playing field for lower income students who might otherwise be left scrambling to make decisions on college attendance at the last minute."
Before the use of Early FAFSA as well as prior-prior year (PPY) tax information, students had to wait until January to apply for federal student aid for the next school year. Students were largely using estimated information given it would take several months for families to file taxes for the prior year. As a result, many families wouldn't get accurate financial aid information for weeks or months into the new year.
But starting with the 2017-18 award year, students could file a FAFSA as early as October 2016 using income from 2015 to know their federal financial aid eligibility sooner. More families could import tax information directly from the IRS into their FAFSA.
NASFAA's survey details how this policy shift has impacted when many schools let students know their aid offers. Nearly half of institutions stated that they did or will send their first 2022-23 financial aid award offers to first-time undergraduate students before February. About 60% of institutions will have sent first-time undergraduates a financial aid offer by the end of February.
The survey also showed that most schools rely on technology rather than postal mail to let students know their financial aid eligibility.
Draeger added that lawmakers should help streamline the FAFSA process even more.
"We still need Congress and the Department of Education to do their part by completing federal appropriations on time and publishing final federal student aid amounts by November 1," he said.