Profile of Iowa FAFSA Filers
Profile of Iowa FAFSA Filers
Growth in Iowa Aid Applications
To be eligible for federal aid for college, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The number of FAFSAs filed by Iowa residents has decreased from its peak in 2011–12 by 14 percent to approximately 175,500 in 2014–15.9 The number of FAFSA filers age 25 and older (non-traditional students) has dropped twice as quickly as filers less than age 25. During the economic recession, the number of non-traditional students filing the FAFSA increased. However, as job availability improved, these students were more likely than traditional students to leave colleges and universities for the workforce.10
Who Completes the FAFSA?
In 2014–15 most FAFSA filers in Iowa (90 percent) were intending to pursue an undergraduate education, and 39 percent were starting their freshman year in college. Ten percent of FAFSA filers were pursuing graduate education. First-generation college students (those who state both parents have a maximum level of education of high school or less) made up one-third of FAFSA filers. However, 10 percent of all FAFSA filers marked “unknown” regarding their parents’ highest level of education, suggesting that the percentage of first-generation college students might be higher than one-third.
The percentage of Iowa’s senior high school class that completes the FAFSA has shown little variation, reaching a maximum of 69 percent in 2009–10 but declining to 64 percent in 2014–15. In 2014–15, 14 percent of all FAFSA filers were high school seniors.9
In Iowa, half of all FAFSA filers were eligible under the Federal Pell Grant Program. The Pell Grant is need-based and does not have to be repaid. The maximum Pell Grant for 2013–14 was $5,635, and Iowa students received $4,500 on average, or 80 percent of the maximum Pell Grant amount.5 The amount a student receives depends on the cost of college attendance and the student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), primarily derived from the family income. One in three Iowa FAFSA filers had $0 EFC in 2014–15, while almost one in seven had EFCs greater than $20,000.
Who Does Not Complete the FAFSA?
Students who fall into one of the following categories have a lower likelihood of filling out a FAFSA:11
• High-income (family income over $80,000)
• Low-income (family income less than $20,000)
• Non-traditional (25 years old or older)
• Enrolled in 2-year institutions
High-income students typically do not complete the FAFSA because they believe they do not need or will not qualify for financial aid. Of all students who do not complete the FAFSA, approximately one-fourth would be eligible for Pell Grants.12 A lack of information and the complexity of the form are two reasons students cite for not completing the FAFSA.11 For low-income students, those who fill out the FAFSA are over 100 percent more likely to persist into the spring semester of their freshman year than those students who do not complete the FAFSA.12
One-on-one personal assistance while completing the FAFSA has been shown to increase completion rates.11 Low-income, first-generation and minority students often have limited knowledge of the financial aid process and less access to advising and counseling on financial topics in school.13 The U.S. Department of Education recommends hosting financial aid or FAFSA completion events to provide all students with financial understanding and application assistance. Currently 67 high schools in Iowa participate in Iowa College Aid’s FAFSA Completion Initiative. This program identifies students who have not completed the FAFSA, allowing schools to connect with those students who might need assistance.
9) Iowa College Student Aid Commission, Free Applications for Federal Student Aid Filed by Iowa Residents, July, 2015.
10) Fain, Paul. (2014). Nearing the Bottom. Inside Higher Ed.
11) Davidson, J. C. (2013). Increasing FAFSA Completion Rates: Research, Policies and Practices. Journal of Student Financial Aid.
12) Novak, Heather, and Lyle McKinney. (2011). The Consequences of Leaving Money on the Table: Examining Persistence among Students Who Do Not File a FAFSA. Journal of Student Financial Aid.
13) George-Jackson, Casey and Melanie Jones Gast. (2015). Addressing Information Gaps: Disparities in Financial Awareness and Preparedness on the Road to College. Journal of Student Financial Aid.