Data from UW-Madison's Nicholas Hillman, Ellie Bruecker, and Valerie Crespín-Trujillo was cited in an article in The Atlantic discussing the impact of recent changes to the FAFSA, known as "Early FAFSA," on student completion.
This year, FAFSA applications were available three months earlier than in previous years, and applicants were able to easily input their information with an IRS data-retrieval tool. According to the article, “The aim of these changes was to make FAFSA completion easier and to give students a clear picture of their aid eligibility much earlier in the college-application process than in the past. The Obama administration, schools, and college-access organizations expected that the updates would get more people to complete the FAFSA, to do so earlier in the year and, ultimately, to attend college.”
The article reports that Hillman, Bruecker, and Crespín-Trujillo “have been tracking FAFSA completions for several years using federal data. For the latest FAFSA cycle, their graph shows a steep climb in the opening months. After hitting 1 million completed applications by December, the number of new FAFSAs slowed down until another, small surge in late February, as financial-aid deadlines approached.”
However, “in an unpublished paper, Hillman, Bruecker, and Crespín-Trujillo show that over the last three years, high schools in western states, schools with higher shares of African American students, and schools with high numbers of low-income students have lower FAFSA-completion rates than the typical high school nationally, which is a bit shy of 50 percent."
Hillman is an associate professor with the School of Education's Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (ELPA) who researches higher education finance and policy, and is a Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE) faculty affiliate. Bruecker and Crespín-Trujillo are Ph.D. students in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.