Education Dept. to End FAFSA Lists

The U.S. Department of Education plans to end its longstanding practice of giving colleges certain student information that some institutions may use against students as they apply for admission and financial aid, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Under a draft version of the 2016-17 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the department will no longer provide colleges with the entire list of institutions that a student submits when filling out the form.  

The federal government currently grants schools access to that information, including the order in which students list the colleges where they are interested in applying. Some admissions offices use the order in which applicants list colleges as a clue to their college preferences and, possibly, a factor in decisions about admissions and scholarships.

Denise Horn, a department spokeswoman, confirmed the policy change late last week, writing in an email that officials believed that some colleges used the information "in a manner that is not appropriate."

"For example, some colleges use that information in their admissions decision process -- looking to see if any of their competitors were listed," she said. "Similarly, some use the information to determine if and how much institutional aid to provide -- why spend money if the student would likely come to my school anyway."

Although colleges will no longer have access to the information, the department plans to continue to provide state grant agencies with access to students' college preferences on the FAFSA. State agencies have found that students tend to enroll at the first college they list on the FAFSA more than 70 percent of the time, Frank Ballmann, director of federal relations at the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs, told Inside Higher Ed.

Several states, such as Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts and New Jersey, set aside grant awards for students based on whether they list a participating in-state institution first on the FAFSA form, according to Ballmann. About 10 additional states use the students' ordering of colleges on the FAFSA for planning and budgeting how many state grant awards they may need to award.


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