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More Poor Students Not Applying for Aid
By JUSTIN POPE, AP Education Writer, Feb. 11, 2006
Even as the price of college rises, more low-income students who would likely get federal financial aid aren't even bothering to apply.
A new report by the American Council on Education estimates 1.5 million students who would probably have been awarded Pell Grants in 2003-2004 did not apply for them. That's up from ACE's estimate in a previous survey of 850,000 who missed out on aid in 1999-2000.
A major reason is probably confusion over the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. On Sunday, at stations set up in high schools, libraries and other buildings across in 25 states, volunteers will help students and families with the forms as part of a program called College Goal Sunday.
Tally Hart, who co-founded the program and is director of student financial aid at Ohio State University, says too many students simply assume they will not be eligible because of their income level, when in fact other factors such as recently losing a job or having other children in college can extend a family's eligibility.
Families "adhere to some myths that exist about financial aid: 'My neighbor didn't get anything so I won't, my older child didn't get any aid so why go through it again?'" Hart said. Others mistakenly believe only merit-based aid is available and that without top grades they are out of luck.
The ACE study, released Wednesday, finds the percentage of undergraduates completing FAFSA actually rose from 50 percent to 59 percent over the four-year period it studied, and the total number of applications increased by nearly 3 million, to 11.1 million.
But the number of low-income students who did not file rose from 1.7 million to 1.8 million, or 28 percent of low-income students. And that was a time when the government expanded the Pell program, so ACE estimates 1.5 million people who failed to apply would have received grants — a figure that represents only students who still managed to enroll somewhere. It doesn't include people who never made it to college at all, and might have done so with aid.
"That's a whole other universe of people, and unfortunately we don't know the size of that group," said Jacqueline King, director of ACE's center for policy analysis.
About one-third of students who did not file a FAFSA received some other form of aid, such as from an employer, but the amount averaged under $3,000.
Among the study's other findings:
• Community college students showed the biggest improvement in aid application rates, with 55 percent failing to apply for aid, compared to 67 percent four years earlier. However, the fraction of low-income students applying for aid held steady at about one-third.
• Half-time students, who are eligible for many aid programs including Pell Grants, significantly increased their aid application rates, with just 42 percent failing to apply, compared to 62 percent four years earlier.
• Independent students — older students who are considered independent of their parents, and who comprise half of all undergraduates — improved from 57 percent failing to apply to 44 percent.
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