News: Federal Policy & Advocacy

Experts Continue to Document FAFSA Verification’s Undue Burden on Students and Institutions

Friday, September 4, 2020  
Posted by: Raymond AlQaisi, Policy and Advocacy Manager
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NCAN has long advocated for simplification of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Achieving a simpler system of federal financial aid access would make it less-burdensome for students to pursue postsecondary education.

One obstacle that millions of students face each year is a process known as verification. Verification requires selected students to prove that the information they provided on the FAFSA is accurate — for example, by providing additional documentation such as tax transcripts.

From NCAN's and our members’ experience, verification is a significant burden for selected students and for the institutions of higher education that manage the process. Students and institutions collectively spend millions of person-hours each year fulfilling these responsibilities.

In a new research paper, scholars Alberto Guzman-Alvarez and Lindsay Page find that verification’s burden falls disproportionately on public institutions, and in particular, community colleges. Their findings are distressing, as community colleges enroll a substantial number of students who are eligible for federal financial aid and require these essential resources to advance their educational pursuits.

Additionally, as NCAN documented in its latest research, for the majority of verified FAFSA filers, verification does not ultimately change the amount of Pell Grant dollars awarded.

These trends also do not account for “verification melt:” when students do not complete the process, which impacts their financial aid and potentially their college-going.

Reasonable solutions can go a long way to alleviate this burden faced by students. As researcher Lindsay Page (et al.) has documented, simple informational interventions can greatly mitigate the negative effects of barriers to student aid access.

While verification is, to a justifiable extent, necessary to ensure public monies are appropriately distributed, available evidence shows considerable burden is placed on students and their institutions. NCAN encourages policymakers to continue to reduce obstacles that students face as they seek to improve themselves through postsecondary education.

On Sept. 3, 2020, NCAN staff hosted a webinar on FAFSA verification and its impact on Pell Grant awards. To access the webinar recording, please visit our webinar archives. You will be required to log in to your NCAN member account. If you experience any issues logging in, please email

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