Report: Over One Million Students Miss Out On Aid

Almost 1.5 million students eligible for financial aid in the form of federal Pell Grants did not receive aid during the 2003-04 academic year because they did not apply for it, adding to a growing trend, according to a new report by the American Council on Education.

The number of eligible students who do not apply for financial aid has risen steadily since the 1999-2000 academic year, when 850,000 eligible students did not fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, required by the federal government to determine aid eligibility.

Despite an overall increase in FAFSA submissions since then, the number of low- and middle-income students that met requirements to receive aid but who neglected to submit a FAFSA has grown substantially, the report said.

UCSD Financial Aid Director Vincent De Anda said that while national figures have demonstrated a dip in financial aid requests, UCSD continues to receive more and more FAFSAs each year. Last year, the university processed nearly 24,000 applications for aid, and about 13,000 of those requests were approved, bringing the total amount of money awarded to UCSD students to about $227 million, according to De Anda.

“The total amount [of aid] has steadily increased each year,” he stated in an e-mail.

The A.C.E. report examined the rates at which undergraduates did not complete a FAFSA and analyzed characteristics of those students in terms of dependency status, income, attendance status and institution type. It also estimated the share of nonfilers who may have been eligible for a Pell Grant. 

“While we are pleased to see more students from the general population apply for aid, it is disappointing that students who could benefit the most from financial aid are not making progress and are actually losing ground,” Jacqueline E. King, the director of A.C.E.’s Center for Policy Analysis, stated in the report. “This is the time of year when financial aid applications are due and we want to encourage students and their families to complete the FAFSA.”

The report also found a 4-percent decrease since 1999-2000 in the number of low-income independent students who did not file a FAFSA, and found that more than one-third of those who did not apply were full-time students.

Results from the report also show that 55 percent of students at community colleges did not apply for aid, compared to 37 percent of students attending public four-year institutions, 27 percent of students at private nonprofit four-year colleges and 13 percent of students at private for-profit institutions.  

The number of nonapplicants who seem to be Pell Grant-eligible grew because both college enrollments and the overall number of students submitting a FAFSA increased, and because an $800 increase in the maximum Pell Grant allowed more students to qualify for the program, according to the report.

According to the report, however, little new information is available on the reasons why students do not apply for aid.

Twenty-nine percent of students who did not file a FAFSA received aid from programs that did not require the application — such as employer assistance (13 percent), institutional non-need-based aid (6 percent) and private grants and loans (5 percent). For some students, this aid may have eliminated the need for further assistance, the report suggested.

De Anda indicated that although there is no estimate on the number of eligible UCSD students who do not submit a FAFSA, the problem lies in the fact that most low-income students do not spend enough time researching aid possibilities.

“Low-income people sometimes disqualify themselves before doing the research,” he stated in an e-mail. “They just don’t believe it is possible.”

De Anda also said that UCSD tries to help students apply for financial-aid through numerous programs, including trips to high schools and community colleges, college nights, special financial-aid workshops and counselor conferences. He also said that UCSD participates in every financial-aid program for which it is eligible, including Cal Grants and federal Supplemental Opportunity Grants. However, he said that more financial aid outreach programs are needed.

“During peak periods, like right now, we cannot meet all the requests for financial aid workshops,” De Anda stated. “I feel we don’t do enough pure financial-aid outreach.”