Early FAFSA: Two filing cycles in review

Last year, AACRAO focused in on the changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2017-18 filing cycle through webinars, task force groups, and a 60 second survey. As a refresher, the changes to the FAFSA included:

  • Beginning on Oct. 1, 2016, students were able to fill out the FAFSA for the 2017–18 school year. (In the past, they had to wait until January 1).
  • In addition, applicants no longer needed to estimate income and tax information and were able to retrieve their data directly from the IRS, right from the first day the FAFSA is available.
  • Students also had information about their Expected Family Contributions earlier, helping them as they’re going through the college application and selection process.

The Results Are In for 2017

FAFSAs filed by all applicants through June 30 are up 6 percent in 2017, after a consistent four-year decline. With this increase, 61 percent of students filed the FAFSA in 2017, which is a 5-percentage-point increase from 2016.

In terms of total FAFSAs completed, there were 1,949,048 during the 2016-17 filing cycle and 2,128,524 during the 2017-18 filing cycle. The earlier filing date and the use of prior-prior year tax information have resulted in more students seeking financial aid than the year before due to the hard work of organizations like the National College Access Network (NCAN), which, on October 4, 2017, held a luncheon to report the numbers and help organizations plan strategies to increase filing numbers

How Are Students Filing Now?

On Oct. 1, 2017, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2018-19 filing cycle became available for students to fill out at fafsa.gov. This was the second filing cycle in which the FAFSA opened three months earlier and where families used prior-prior year tax information. Once again, there were significant changes to the application which included:

  • The restoration of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) for the 2018-19 FAFSA beginning on Oct. 1.
  • The encryption of all information transferred from the IRS using the DRT, so applicants are not be able to see the data transferred.
  • Information transferred from the DRT can only be edited by higher education institutions and not by the applicants.
  • Applicants who filed amended tax returns will now be able to use the DRT.
  • Students up to the age of 23 may now answer the “homeless or at risk of being homeless” questions.

The overall number of high school seniors completing a FAFSA during the first week of availability increased 8 percent overall this year compared to last year, based on data from the FAFSA high school completion tool. These data include the first week of October 2016 (the beginning of the 2017-18 filing cycle) and the first week of October 2017 (the beginning of the 2018-19 filing cycle). This cycle’s initial increase in submissions and completions could be evidence of the success of Early FAFSA, which made the form available earlier and allowed students and parents to use tax returns from two years prior.

Due to the success of this initiative, AACRAO will continue its work in the Financial Aid arena as it relates to our members. This works makes you a better team member to your Financial Aid officers. Keep your eyes open for joint initiatives with Financial Student Aid (FSA) on topics such as incentive grant items, NSLDS, the scorecard, competency based education, and Title IV compliance.