I love a good soap box rant. Of course, what I really mean is that I love to go on a good soap box rant. Want to know what the most recent topic my coworkers, husband, Mom, and cat have had to listen to? Verification selection rates. Ohhhhh don’t get me started! I remember when the selection rates started getting out of hand. I saw a few tweets, heard a few grumbles, and then when we all figured out what was going on, some mobilization. NASFAA’s Rapid Response Network went out with a call for data, data, data to present as evidence of increased rates. The issue was fixed, and rates were supposed to go down. But did that really happen? Depends on who you ask.
At Mizzou, we saw a verification selection rate of 63% between November 20th and December 15th. Sixty-three percent! That’s only 37 percentage points less than 100%. Isn’t that just crazy?! Once the algorithm was corrected, our rate dropped to 18% between December 18th and January 12th. Which is wonderful! But, it seems we are in the minority with seeing a drop that large, or even a drop at all. With verification rates around 30%, plus these weird spikes, administrative burden increases. Many of us are already told to do more with less, and just to add verification to the pile. David Sheridan, the Director of Financial Aid at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs in New York summed it up nicely in an e-mail correspondence from February when he said “[I] compared the alleged 30% verification requirement to the IRS, which is responsible for a lot more money than the Department of Ed is. The IRS audits approximately 1% of all tax filers, and the estimated loss to the US Treasury from tax fraud is over $200 billion – not million, billion – dollars a year. But heaven forbid someone fill out a FAFSA and leave out the $1,117 from boxes 12a through 12d, codes D, E, F, G, H or S from their W2. Gotta get to the bottom of that. So Financial Aid staff need to spend time sweating those details while students can’t figure out how much to borrow or how to repay their loans…and then we get criticized for that…which we don’t have time to help them with because we’re busy verifying”*. I think David likes a good soap box rant, too!
We all know verification can present a huge barrier to college access. While sometimes holding a student’s hand through verification is aggravating, and explaining how to get documents seems tedious, just try to remember the student you are helping may not be able to make it without your guidance.
I would encourage you to take a look at your office verification selection rates and see if the algorithm change made a difference on your campus. Take a look at the ranges I used above and see how it stacks up. Then maybe get on your soap box, start furiously writing letters to the Department of Education and your federal representatives (maybe under just your own name, not school, if they are going to in fact be furious), and always make sure to advocate for your students.
*Quoted with permission from David Sheridan
Keri Gilbert is MASFAP’s Legislative Co-Chair