Neediest students most likely to miss aid deadlines

MAP grant illustrationStudents with the greatest need for financial aid for college are the least prepared to submit the applications early enough to receive it, a UIC study finds.

“Among all low-income students who qualify for need-based aid, those with a slightly higher expected family contribution are more likely to complete the application in time, as are those who had at least one parent who attended college, and who had better grades in high school,” said Mary Feeney, associate professor of public administration.

Feeney conducted the study, published in the Journal of Student Financial Aid, with John Heroff, outreach policy specialist at the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.

They analyzed economic, social and academic data on a random sample of 4,000 aspiring freshmen who qualified for the Illinois Monetary Award Program, which allocates need-based aid on a first-come, first-served basis, and who completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, used to determine federal, state and college financial aid.

In FY2012, more than 158,000 Illinois students received MAP funding, which can be used for tuition and fees at about 140 public and private colleges in the state.

“Completing the application requires a considerable amount of effort and social capital — personal networks that students can draw on to gain information,” Feeney said.

“Students who have access to an adult who understands the process — a relative, guidance counselor, clergy member, or someone at a neighborhood association — are significantly more likely to complete the form and attend college.”

The researchers cite barriers that face low-income students and their parents in applying for aid, including confusing forms that ask too many questions, questions about family financial status that students can’t answer, the assumption that parents will help cover college costs and lack of knowledge about available support.

Many states and colleges impose deadlines months before that imposed by the U.S. Department of Education. Some states make grants until funds are depleted, so the deadline may change each year, Feeney said.

Feeney said help from organizations like the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which offers information and workshops on completing the application, is critical.

“Eligible students with the most need should be targeted early for assistance to complete financial aid forms,” she said.

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