FAFSA auditing Black and Latino students at higher rates

About 18 million students filled out the FAFSA in 2019

According to The Washington Post, the Education Department has disproportionately targeted students from majority Black and Latino neighborhoods to provide additional proof that the information on their financial aid application is accurate.

Of approximately 18 million students who filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), nearly a quarter were flagged for verification in the 2019-2020 cycle.

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After filing the FAFSA, Brayneisha Edwards, 20, a sophomore at Maryville University in St. Louis, received a notice requesting that she complete a worksheet detailing the size of her family and their earnings. After turning in the form to the financial aid office, she was told weeks later that the form was missing and she had to fill out another.

Edwards’ audit didn’t end until nearly the end of the semester. By that point, she had lost out on scholarships provided on a first-come, first-serve basis for the fall, which left Edwards owing money and ineligible to register for spring classes.

“It’s very stressful,” Edwards said. “My grades are suffering. I have all of these doubts about am I even going to finish college. My parents didn’t go to college and they are trying to help, but this is new to all of us.”

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The purpose of the verification process that Edwards endured is to maintain the integrity of the $120 billion federal financial aid system, especially the billions of dollars in Pell grants provided to students with limited means. However, the more complex their financial situation, the more documents they must submit and the longer the verification may take.

WaPo reported that because of racial income and wealth disparities, the students most like to be affected by the verification policy tend to be Black and Latino. The disparate impact of the policy raises questions about whether the Education Department is reinforcing systemic racism through an expensive process with limited benefits.

“We ask students — often those most vulnerable and marginalized by the inequities in our systems — to prove over and over again why they need the money for college,” said Teresa Steinkamp, advising director at the nonprofit Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, “And once they navigate these complicated barriers, the aid is often insufficient to cover the need they’ve verified they have,” she added.

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