As of June 30, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completions in Kentucky were up 11 percent from 2016, according to a report from the National College Access Network. This increase represents 3,055 additional FAFSA filers in Kentucky. Nationally, FAFSA completions rose 6 percent overall and 9 percent among 2017 high school graduates, reversing a four-year decline.
These increases follow a 2015 executive action that allowed families to file the FAFSA three months earlier (in October instead of January) and use income tax returns from two years ago, also known as prior-prior year income data. Now, income data can be uploaded into the application automatically, saving time and reducing errors. Students are notified of their expected aid packages sooner, leaving them more time to make informed decisions and plan for college costs.
The FAFSA determines a student’s eligibility for federal Pell grants, work-study programs and Stafford loans. Additionally, colleges and universities often use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for their own need-based financial aid programs.
A recent analysis by NerdWallet estimated that just over 11,000 Kentucky seniors, who were eligible for Pell grants in 2014, left $40.6 million on the table because they didn’t complete a FAFSA. The average Pell award in Kentucky in 2013-14 was $3,689, which is money that does not need to be paid back.
The bottom line is that anyone planning to go to college should fill out a FAFSA, regardless of family income. The formula used to determine Pell awards takes into account the difference between the cost to attend college and the family’s expected financial contribution, so students going to more expensive schools may qualify for aid even if their families are not needy. Also, the FAFSA provides access to federally subsidized loans with lower interest rates, which are available regardless of income. Unlike commercial loans, these may be eligible for federal loan forgiveness programs if the student works in the public sector or in select fields, such as teaching and nursing, after graduation.
For more information about student financial aid, contact KHEAA at 1-800-928-8926.