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ERIC Number: ED511989
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Sep
Pages: 43
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 30
The Role of Simplification and Information in College Decisions: Results and Implications from the H&R Block FAFSA Experiment. An NCPR Working Paper
Bettinger, Eric P.; Long, Bridget Terry; Oreopoulos, Philip; Sanbonmatsu, Lisa
National Center for Postsecondary Research
Growing concerns about low awareness and take-up rates for government support programs like financial aid for college have recently spurred calls to simplify the application process and enhance visibility. However, little research has been done to determine whether such reforms would truly improve college access and in what form "simplification" should take. This project examines the effects of two experimental treatments designed to test the importance of simplifying the process of receiving financial aid and providing clear information about personal aid eligibility using a random assignment research design. H&R Block tax professionals helped low- to moderate-income families complete the FAFSA, the federal application for financial aid. Families were then immediately given an estimate of their eligibility for government aid as well as information about local postsecondary options. A second randomly-chosen group of individuals received only personalized aid eligibility information, which was calculated based on data from the tax form, but they did not receive help completing the FAFSA. Comparing the outcomes of participants in the treatment groups to a control group using multiple sources of administrative data, the analysis suggests that individuals who received assistance with the FAFSA and information about aid were substantially more likely to submit the aid application. High school seniors among this group were also much more likely to enroll in college and receive need-based financial aid the following fall. The program also increased college enrollment for independent adults with no prior college experience, and it increased aid receipt among independent adults who had previously attended college. These results suggest that simplifying the process and providing direct help with the application along with better information could be effective ways to improve college access. However, only providing aid eligibility information without also giving assistance with the form had no significant effect on FAFSA submission rates or college outcomes. Figures and tables are appended. (Contains 6 tables, 2 figures, and 30 footnotes.)
National Center for Postsecondary Research. Teachers College, Columbia University, Box 174, 525 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027. Tel: 212-678-3091; Fax: 212-678-3699; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: High Schools; Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; National Science Foundation; Institute of Education Sciences (ED); Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; Spencer Foundation; John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Authoring Institution: National Center for Postsecondary Research (ED)
IES Funded: Yes
Grant or Contract Numbers: R305A060010