April 9, 2014
The Promise of #MyData
On January 15th, the government announced a Request for Ideas (RFI) for a new FAFSA. The next iteration of the Federal Financial Aid Application could be an app that’s essentially Turbo Tax for filing financial aid to ensure that students get the maximum financial aid offer and help make sure there are no mistakes nor missed deadlines. The My Data initiative recognizes that schools, companies, and government agencies have databases containing the information a student needs to populate the blank spaces in a financial application form.
The number of students failing to file the FAFSA each year has remained flat for over a decade. Of the students who did not apply for financial aid from any source, almost all (95.3%) gave at least one of five reasons for not applying: thought ineligible (60.7%), no financial need (50.6%), did not want to take on the debt (40.2%), no information on how to apply (22.9%) and forms were too much work (18.9%). The first three reasons accounted for 92.2% of the non-applicants. Many of these students, however, would have qualified for financial aid. About a third of these students, for example, would have qualified for a Pell Grant and about a sixth for a full Pell Grant. At least 1.7 million students fail to file the FAFSA each year because they incorrectly believe themselves to be ineligible.
Currently, our financial aid application process is shameful injustice. We as a society are morally obligated recognize that students have a right to their data. Furthermore, they have the right to give others permission to use the information to automatically calculate or update their financial aid offer. I have seen how my students’ information is automatically used to notify them of their obligation to register for the draft, but I have longed to see it used to notify them of their financial aid eligibility.