• On January 24th, the Compact held its January community partner meeting at the NewBridge Center for Arts and Technology. This meeting featured guest speakers Angela Johnson, Vice President of Access and Completion at Cuyahoga Community College, Andrea Caputo, ‎Program Manager, Quality Assurance & Compliance at Cuyahoga Community College and Heather Beasley, Site Director for Programs and Services at College Now. The trio presented on the topic of verification and how community partners can support students who are going through the process.

    Verification occurs when students who submit the FAFSA are asked to submit additional documents to the college’s financial aid office to support the information entered on the financial aid form. The FAFSA is linked to billions of dollars in federal and state aid and verification is intended to reduce fraud and ensure the integrity of these distributions. Once selected for verification, financial aid cannot be dispersed until the process is complete.

    While verification is rooted in good governance, the process itself is cumbersome to students. Furthermore, low-income students are more likely to be selected for verification because students who enter a “zero” expected family contribution (EFC) in their FAFSA – simply meaning their household income is less than $25,000 – have a higher chance of being selected for verification than their wealthier peers.

    The current verification selection algorithm also means that if you’re selected for verification at one institution you are likely to be selected at multiple institutions. Complicating the practice, each college has its own verification process usually requiring students to submit a combination of tax returns, W-2 statements, and 1099 forms.

    According to Heather, getting verified has a different impact on different students. Some students begin the process immediately, submitting the required documents to each school. Others, may ignore the emails or letters, thinking the problem will just go away. Regardless of the approach, feelings of anxiety, frustration, and irritation are common during the verification process. Sadly, for some students, a complicated verification process may drive them to give up on their postsecondary goals.

    Despite this less than rosy picture, there are ways that community partners can help students. Angela suggests that partners “get to know a financial aid administrator. That way when your student hits a roadblock, the answer is just a phone call away. She also noted that schools like Tri-C have walk-in hours when any student with a financial aid related question from any college or university, can receive guidance.

    Heather’s advice to community members is to read any and all correspondence provided by the government or institutions. By carefully reading the information sent to students – you’ll be ahead.

    Washington Post: Colleges puzzled by surge in FAFSA verification requests

    The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Verification Trap

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