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The Role of Application Assistance and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block Fafsa Experiment

Eric Bettinger (), Bridget Long, Philip Oreopoulos () and Lisa Sanbonmatsu

The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2012, vol. 127, issue 3, 1205-1242

Abstract: Growing concerns about low awareness and take-up rates for government support programs like college financial aid have spurred calls to simplify the application process and enhance visibility. We present results from a randomized field experiment in which low-income individuals receiving tax preparation help were also offered immediate assistance and a streamlined process to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for themselves or their children. Treated participants were also provided with aid estimates that were compared against tuition cost amounts for nearby colleges. The combined assistance and information treatment substantially increased FAFSA submissions and ultimately the likelihood of college attendance, persistence, and aid receipt. In particular, high school seniors whose parents received the treatment were 8 percentage points more likely to have completed two years of college, going from 28% to 36%, during the first three years following the experiment. Families who received aid information but no assistance with the FAFSA did not experience improved outcomes. The findings suggest many other opportunities for using personal assistance to increase participation in programs that require filling out forms to become eligible. JEL Codes: I2, H4, J24. Copyright 2012, Oxford University Press.

Date: 2012
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