FAFSA Verification By the Numbers

September 25, 2017

By MorraLee Keller, Director of Technical Assistance 

When we think about hurdles our students must overcome when getting into college, FAFSA verification often rises near the top of the list. As NCAN continues its quest to address these hurdles – most recently via public comments suggesting the U.S. Department of Education reduce verification regulations – we opted to dig into the numbers associated with verification and its effects on FAFSA applicants.

While we know many students are randomly chosen to go through the verification process, the department does not share the specific criteria or flags in the system that get a student intentionally selected for verification. What we do know is that over 90 percent of intentionally selected applicants have Expected Family Contributions that would qualify them for a Pell Grant, and therefore disproportionately affects the population we serve.

Because data regarding verification are not publicly reported, NCAN submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. We asked for three academic years’ worth of verification numbers (2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16) so that we could understand the volume of applicants selected, which verification category they were placed in, and the resolution codes to determine how many applicants were able to successfully complete the process – and how many weren’t. We are also waiting for more data, but have done some internal number-crunching in the meantime.

For informational purposes, data the department did turn over show that officials have used six categories of verification over the aforementioned three years (numbers are rounded down):

 Group Definition FAFSAs Submitted in 2013-14  FAFSAs Submitted in 2014-15 FAFSAs Submitted in 2015-16   Notes
 V1 Standard Verification 6.48M  4.52M  4.74M  Reduction may be attributed to IRS DRT use
 V2 SNAP Verification  92K  N/A  N/A  Discontinued in FY15
 V3 Child Support Verification  72K  68K  62K  Discontinued in FY17 
 V4 Custom Verification  97K  417K  271K  Used for high school completion and identity/statement of educational purpose 
 V5 Aggregate Verification  114K  110K  249K  Used for students selected in multiple categories 
 V6 Reserved  N/A  220K  712K 

Used for students with very low household resources; discontinued in FY18 

NCAN has not received all of the requested information, so we cannot yet calculate the percentage of applicants who do not successfully resolve verification – students who are affected by “verification melt,” as we call it. NCAN will continue to seek these data and advocate on behalf of our students to reduce this burden, as well as advocate for a less burdensome process to retrieve tax transcripts so that those selected can complete the process as efficiently as possible. We are hopeful that with the return of the IRS DRT for the 2018-19 FAFSA filing period, our members will continue to encourage families to use this tool, to reduce the likelihood of their being selected for the verification process.

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