Program

Dec 21, 2012

OVERVIEW

The H&R Block FAFSA intervention provides student financial aid application assistance to low-income families with college-aged family members.  This program has shown significant impacts on the likelihood of applying for financial aid, enrolling in college, and receiving scholarships among high school seniors and young adults with no college experience.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target Population: Adolescents and young adults not currently enrolled in college.

The H&R Block FAFSA program is a brief intervention that provides student financial aid application assistance to low-income families with college-aged family members.  The program aims to reduce barriers to college enrollment and increase receipt of financial aid.  The intervention is conducted at the end of an existing tax preparation appointment, and typically takes about 10 minutes.  Software developed for this program uses the families’ tax returns to pre-populate many questions on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and the remaining FAFSA items are answered through a structured interview with the tax professional.  After completing the FAFSA, the program software calculates the amount of federal and state financial aid the college-aged individual is eligible to receive.  Families receive this information together with explanations about the various types of aid available.  If all information is complete, the tax professional can electronically submit the FAFSA.  If additional information or signatures are needed, FAFSAs are mailed to the family along with a pre-paid envelope for submission to the FAFSA office.

Estimated costs associated with this intervention (offered without charge to study participants) were $87.50 per participant.

EVALUATION OF PROGRAM

Bettinger, E. P., Long, B. T, Oreopoulos, P., & Sanbonmatsu, L. (2012). The role of application assistance and information in college decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, in press. doi:10.1093/qje/qjs017

Evaluated Population:  The study was conducted in several H&R Block offices in Ohio and North Carolina.  The sample consisted of 16,742 individuals between the ages of 15 and 30 years old who received tax preparation help at an H&R Block office. To be eligible, the household of the participant had to have an adjusted gross income of less than $45,000 for the previous year.  For analysis, the sample was split into three groups: dependents (mostly high school seniors), independents with prior college experience, and independents with no prior college experience. The sample was split in this manner to better understand how this program works for these different populations.  Among the dependent participants, 56 percent were female, 55 percent were white, 38 percent were black, and the average age was 17.7 years.  In the independent group with prior college experience, 58 percent were female, 70 percent were white, 25 percent were black, and the average age was 25.9 years.  For the independents with no prior college experience, 64 percent were female, 65 percent were white, 29 percent were black, and the average age was 26.2 years.

Approach:  Participants were randomized at the individual level into three groups: (1) FAFSA intervention, (2) Information-only intervention, or (3) Control.  Individuals in the FAFSA group received the intervention as described above.  Those in the Information-only condition received individualized materials about their student aid eligibility and estimates of the amount of aid they might be eligible for, while participants in the Control group received a brochure with basic, non-individualized information about college costs and student aid. In the Independents with prior college experience group, those in the FAFSA condition were significantly older than those in the Control.  Otherwise, the groups were equivalent at baseline. The primary outcomes measured were FAFSA filing, college enrollment, and receipt of a Pell grant in the year following intervention.  The information was collected from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Student Clearinghouse, and the Ohio Board of Regents.

Results:  For dependents and independents with no prior college experience, the FAFSA intervention showed significant positive impacts on the FAFSA filing rate, the college enrollment rate, and the receipt of Pell grants, when compared with the control group.  The FAFSA intervention did not have any significant impact on independent participants with prior college experience.  The information-only condition did not have any significant impacts on any of the three groups.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

For more information visit: http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news-impact/2009/09/new-study-shows-simplifying-financial-aid-process-improves-college-access-for-low-income-students/ or http://www.nber.org/papers/w15361

References

Bettinger, E. P., Long, B. T, Oreopoulos, P., & Sanbonmatsu, L. (2012). The role of application assistance and information in college decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, in press. doi:10.1093/qje/qjs017

Contact Information

Eric Bettinger,
Ph.D.

School of Education

CERAS 522

520 Galvez Mall

Stanford, CA 94305

Email: ebettinger@stanford.edu

KEYWORDS: Adolescents (12-17), Youth (16+), Young Adults (18-24), High School, College, Males and Females (Co-ed), White/Caucasian, Black/African-American, Cost, Parent or Family Component, Computer-based, College Enrollment/Preparation, Education Other

Program information last updated on 12/21/12.