Average FAFSA Completion Time for First-Time Dependent Filers Rises 20%

October 11, 2016

By Courtney Argenti, Graduate Policy Intern

Last year, NCAN members voiced their challenges with the new FSA ID, emphasizing that it’s taking students longer to complete the FAFSA, which could result in fewer FAFSA completions. Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. Department of Education, NCAN received Federal Student Aid’s Winter 2016 internal newsletter showing that FAFSA completion times increased substantially for most filers between Jan. 1 and Feb. 5, 2016. The newsletter noted that the increases are a result of the FSA ID process.

Among dependent students, average FAFSA completion time rose by nine minutes (20 percent) for first-time filers and nearly six-and-a-half minutes (23 percent) for application renewals. First-time independent filers experienced an increase of almost four minutes (17 percent), while independent FAFSA renewal applications averaged about a 30-second increase (3 percent).

The chart below shows average completion times for dependent and independent students over the last three years, categorized by original applications and renewal applications. Numbers are based on applications received by Feb. 5 in the first year of each FAFSA cycle:

So, are increased completion times leading to a decreased number of FAFSA submissions? Possibly. FAFSA volume reports for January-June 2016 show a 3.5-percent decline from the same period in 2015 for all submissions, with a 1.4-percent decrease for dependent students and a 5.6-percent decrease for independent students. Some of this decline, especially for independent students, likely is due to improving employment rates, but with the number of graduating high school seniors increasing each year, any FAFSA submission decline for dependent students is bad news for uptake of federal student aid and reinforces the importance of continuing to make FAFSA easier. In January, NCAN will release our proposal to the U.S. Congress for a streamlined FAFSA that will significantly reduce the number of questions on the application, especially for low-income families. 

There is some good news about the FSA ID. FSA has made numerous outreach and explanatory materials available to educate families and organizations providing FAFSA completion assistance. Additionally, in September, the White House announced that next year FAFSA will have a streamlined sign-up and recovery process for the FSA ID, which should improve usability. “It is a big victory to have a better FSA ID in the works,” said Carrie Warick, NCAN Director of Policy and Advocacy. 

To learn more about NCAN’s FOIA request and FAFSA completion rates, contact Carrie Warick.

Visit Form Your Future, NCAN’s new national FAFSA completion campaign, for an overview of creating and using the FSA ID.

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