By Courtney Argenti, Graduate Policy Intern
How many people call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) for assistance and what do they need help with? NCAN wanted to know so that we can better understand students’ most common problems related to federal financial aid. So, we completed a Freedom of Information Act request and found that students’ biggest challenge is starting and completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
More than 1 million individuals called the FSAIC from Nov. 1, 2015, to July 28, 2016 with questions related to federal loans, financial aid disbursements, student aid program information, and the FAFSA (including questions related to individuals’ application, corrections, the FSA ID, or the IRS Data Retrieval Tool). The significant majority of calls — 67 percent, or 701,248 calls — were related to the FAFSA. Twenty-four percent of calls (256,013) concerned federal loans, and 7 percent of callers had questions about their application status and the next steps after FAFSA submission (“application status” in the link above). The other calls were related to the financial aid office and financial aid disbursements (1 percent) and information about the federal financial aid programs (1 percent).
Of the questions related to the FAFSA:
- 68 percent called about specific information on the FAFSA (including starting, continuing, or renewing the application and signing and submitting the FAFSA).
- 28 percent called about issues with the FSA ID (either creating an account or forgot username or password).
- 4 percent called about the IRS DRT.
The high volume of callers with questions related to specific information on the FAFSA — close to half a million calls — demonstrates how individuals continue to struggle with the complexity of the form.
The most frequent question regarding specific information on the FAFSA was about starting, continuing, and renewing the application (it accounted for 21 percent of all FAFSA-specific questions). This could be a good sign that students are motivated to file the FAFSA. However, 58 percent of individuals with FAFSA-related questions needed further guidance and clarification after initiating the application — yet again, a confirmation of the FAFSA’s complexity.
Each of the reasons for calling the FSAIC after initiating the FAFSA are issues that NCAN also found students and parents struggle with when testing our Streamlined FAFSA. These reasons include:
- Signing and submitting the FAFSA (29 percent of all FSAIC questions were related to specific information on the FAFSA)
- Parent financial and tax information (18 percent)
- Student eligibility (11 percent)
- Student financial and tax information (4 percent)
- Student demographics (3 percent)
- School selection (3 percent)
As NCAN members remember well, 2015-16 was the first FAFSA application cycle where the FSA ID was introduced — and it came with complications. So, it is not surprising that FSA-ID related questions were among the most common reasons for calling the FSAIC. To be exact, 19 percent of all FSAIC calls were regarding the FSA ID. Forgotten username or password and creating an account comprised the majority of questions (46 percent and 42 percent, respectively), while identifier issues and student demographic questions accounted for the other 8 and 4 percent of total calls (respectively).
It is interesting to note that during the nine months of FSAIC data obtained, February experienced the greatest call volume. The data confirm that the high volume of calls directly relates to the 2016-17 FAFSA cycle, which began in January 2016: 48 percent of all FSAIC calls in February were FAFSA-related questions and 26 percent of calls were FSA ID-related questions. Federal loans accounted for 22 percent of FSAIC calls in February and application status questions accounted for 5 percent.
This trend was similar for all months during the 2016-17 FAFSA filing cycle (January 2016 – July 2016). FAFSA-related questions were the most frequent from January to July but in November and December 2015, questions regarding federal loans were the most common. February, March, April, and July also had high call volumes for FSA ID-related questions, whereas May and June experienced higher calls about federal loans than about the FSA ID.
As the FAFSA season reaches its peak, NCAN will stay attentive to data trends and to issues our students are facing. Our latest Early FAFSA completion rate update is coming soon. If you have any questions regarding NCAN’s FOIA request or the data in this blog, contact Courtney Argenti.