As a graduate student, I‘m no stranger to filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), and when I filed my 2016-17 FAFSA, I was prompted to create an FSA ID—the username and password you need to log in to the FAFSA. I followed the step-by-step instructions, and voila! I easily created my very own FSA ID in no time!
The FSA ID replaced the Federal Student Aid PIN (check out this blog post explaining why). Students, parents, and borrowers must use an FSA ID to log on to certain Department of Education (ED) websites like fafsa.gov, StudentAid.gov, and StudentLoans.gov. The FSA ID is a more secure way to access and sign important documents without using personally identifiable information (PII).
More than 30 million FSA IDs have been created, and people, like me, have used their FSA ID more than 146 million* times. With any new process, there are some myths floating around about creating and using an FSA ID. Let’s tackle some of those right now…Myth #1:
It’ll take a long time to create my FSA ID.
On average, it takes about seven minutes to create an FSA ID. If you previously had a Federal Student Aid PIN, you can link it to your FSA ID; this will help eliminate a few steps in the process. Federal Student Aid (FSA) has a variety of resources, like this helpful video, that walks you through each step of creating an FSA ID.Myth #2:
Only students need to create an FSA ID.
If you are a dependent student, then your parent will need an FSA ID, too (if he or she will sign the FAFSA electronically). That’s because you will need to provide your parent’s information on your FAFSA and your parent, will need to sign the FAFSA, as well. But here is something very important—your parent must create his or her own, separate FSA ID. Your parent shouldn’t use your FSA ID, and you shouldn’t create an FSA ID for your parent.
If you’re not sure if you’re a dependent student, visit StudentAid.gov/dependency.Myth #3:
It’s okay to let someone else create or use my FSA ID.
Not okay. Each individual person needs to create his or her own FSA ID. A Parent should NOT be creating an FSA ID for their child, and a student should NOT be creating an FSA ID for his or her parent. For example, if a parent tries to create both the parent’s and child’s FSA ID, it’s easy to mix up information like Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and usernames and passwords. Because we verify your information with the Social Security Administration (SSA), it’s crucial that this information be correct. Also, if someone else creates your FSA ID, how will you know the answers to your challenge questions if you need to retrieve a lost username or password?
Also, FSA IDs are used to sign legally binding documents, so giving someone access to your FSA ID is like allowing them to forge your signature. Be sure to create your own FSA ID, and save yourself the trouble.Myth #4:
I need an e-mail address to create an FSA ID
You do NOT need an e-mail address to create an FSA ID. If you don’t have an e-mail address, you can leave this field blank. Adding your e-mail address is strongly recommended, though, because once your e-mail address is verified, you can enter it instead of your username when you log in. You can also use your e-mail address to retrieve your forgotten username or password or to unlock your account. It’s easy to update and verify your e-mail address by clicking “Edit My FSA ID.”Myth #5:
As a parent, I can use the same e-mail address for both my FSA ID and my child’s.
An e-mail address cannot be used with more than one FSA ID. If you choose to provide an e-mail address when creating your FSA ID, the student will need to include his or her e-mail own address, and the parent will need to include his or her own e-mail address. If you don’t have an e-mail address, you can leave the field blank.Myth #6:
I need an FSA ID to fill out the FAFSA.
The fastest way to sign and submit your FAFSA is to use an FSA ID. That said, if you or your parent don’t have an FSA ID, you can still submit the FAFSA. If you fill out the FAFSA online, but don’t have an FSA ID, you can choose the option to submit your FAFSA without signatures, and print and mail a signature page. If you can’t fill out the FAFSA online, you have other options.
Students without access to a computer can receive assistance from a wide range of college access organizations, like the National College Access Network (NCAN); a student can also visit a local library, use a computer at school, as well as get help from school counselors.Myth #7: The Social Security Administration has to verify my information before I can use my FSA ID.
If you’re filling out a FAFSA for the first time, you can use your newly created FSA ID to sign and submit your FAFSA right away. But, if you need to submit a renewal FAFSA or make corrections after you’ve submitted your FAFSA—and you did NOT link your PIN when you created your FSA ID—you first have to wait for the SSA to verify your identity. The verification process takes one to three days.
Make sure to enter your information exactly as it appears on your Social Security card to avoid delays. Once your information is verified, you can use your FSA ID to submit your renewal FAFSA, make corrections, access your loan history, and a host of other things.
If you’re a parent, you never have to wait for the SSA match to sign your child’s FAFSA. However, if you sign the FAFSA when your SSA match status is listed as “pending” and it later returns “no match,” we will remove your signature from your child’s FAFSA. If that happens, you will either need to resolve the conflict with the SSA and sign electronically again, or print and mail a signature page.Myth #8:
Confirming my e-mail address can take up to 24 hours.
You should receive your e-mail confirmation within three minutes. Although, your e-mail account’s spam filter could delay your confirmation. It’s a good idea to add the FSA ID e-mail address—FSA-ID@ed.gov—to your address book to make sure you get your confirmation.Myth #9:
I forgot my password, and it’s going to take 30 minutes to reset it.
You only have to wait 30 minutes if you reset your password using your challenge questions.
But, the easiest way to reset your password is to enter your verified e-mail address. Once you do, you can use your FSA ID immediately.
* These figures are accurate as of April 11, 2016.
Alexis Anderson is an intern at Federal Student Aid’s office of communications. She is a graduate student at The George Washington University studying Strategic Public Relations.
Photo by Getty Images.
WCET conducted analysis on the Department of Education’s IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) data since the initial release of distance education data for the Fall, 2012. Most recently, we produced a comprehensive report, WCET Distance Education Enrollment Report 2016, that analyzes trends in the distance education data reported between 2012 and 2014.
In the past, we’ve alerted to you to problems that some institutions had in reporting distance education enrollments to IPEDS. We’re glad to report that many have addressed those problems. A few institutions still maintain their own practices or are a complete mystery. Here’s what we found in revisiting the same problem children from the original IPEDS distance education enrollment reports.
Examining Possible Distance Ed Undercounts Since 2012 – Many Students Missing
In September, 2014 we wrote a blog post that explored discrepancies in distance education enrollments reported in the Fall 2012 IPEDS data. After being tipped-off by some WCET members as to problems they had in submitting data, we reviewed enrollments reports and identified 21 institutions with enrollment responses that seemed unusually low. We contacted representatives of those institutions to seek answers regarding whether the colleges reported all of their for-credit distance education enrollments for Fall 2012. If they did not, we asked about the size of the undercount and the reasons why enrollments were not reported.
The reasons for the undercounts fell into a two main categories.
- Distance Education Definition. Confusion about the “Distance Education” definition provided by IPEDS and institutions who shared that they use their own definition of distance education not IPEDS’ definition. The definitional issues were explored in detail in the September 2014 blog post. Institutions are expected to use different definitions for accrediting, state, IPEDS, and other purposes. Some of them said that they just report using the state definition for all purposes.
- Not Counting Students in Self-Support Programs. Challenges with the systems that count enrollment, some self-support programs operate with a separate registration system. This issue is characterized in the words of an administrator who asked not to be named, “The enrollments that do not pass through our ERP system are blind to us.” As a result we found two large public university systems who had never reported a single student distance education enrolled in for-credit programs on any IPEDS survey, ever. The problem was larger than just the distance education enrollments as these students were not counted in any other IPEDS report. This issue encompassed many thousands of students each year.
As a result, we learned that the IPEDS numbers undercounted both distance education and overall higher education enrollments by tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of students.
Has Reporting Improved Over the Last Three Years?
With three years of IPEDS data now available for distance education, it seemed like a good time to revisit the challenges of early distance education data reporting. We wanted to see if the challenges of accurately reporting distance education enrollments for the colleges we investigated in 2014 persisted.
Improved Their Reporting
There has been improvement for some institutions. A large, public institutions in the southwest that offers multiple start dates and reported that it was not possible to accurately report fall enrollment to IPEDS with their current data management systems reported over a 70% increase in “Exclusively” Distance Education (DE) enrollments between Fall 2012 and Fall 2014. This at the same time the overall enrollment growth on the campus increased by 20%. This suggests that the staff at the school responsible for IPEDS reporting has found a way to collect and report data for the multiple start dates each fall.
A state university in the south that reported no “Exclusively” DE enrollments in 2012 reported 758 enrollments in Fall 2014, this at a time when total enrollments increased 2% for the institution. When asked about the lack of reporting in 2012, a representative indicated that they did not have the systems in place to accurately report DE enrollments, but that they were reporting accurate DE data beginning in 2013. The recent data indicates that they have put a system in place to report distance education enrollments.
A public system in the west reported a 25% increase in “Exclusively” DE enrollments while reporting a 3% decline in overall enrollments between Fall 2012 and Fall 2014.
While we refrained from naming most institutions in the 2014 blog, we did name the California State University system since it was their admitted issues with the IPEDS definition of “distance education” that triggered our interest in digging deeper into the data to understand the anomalies in reporting. In 2014, Cal State University system representatives freely admitted that they were only counting “state support enrollments” not the 50,000 students that were taking for-credit courses offered by their self-support, continuing education units.
Analysis of the changes in the Cal State system’s IPEDS reporting suggests that they have probably aligned their reporting with the Department of Education requirements. Total enrollments increased 2% between Fall 2012 and Fall 2014, while the “Exclusively” DE enrollments reported increased 60% in the same period.
A similar trend is evident when reviewing another multi-campus state university system in the west that is known to have invested heavily in national advertising in this timeframe. This institution reported a 13% increase in total enrollments and an 85% increase in “Exclusively” DE enrollments between Fall 2012 and Fall 2014. It is not clear how much of the enrollment growth in online is true increases and how much is attributable to changes in reporting.
Reporting Has Not Changed
Another large institution in the southwest, told us in 2014 that they used their own definition of distance education, not the IPEDS definition. A follow up with the contact revealed that they still use their own definition of distance education to report DE data to IPEDS. This institution reported a 22% increase in overall enrollments and a 35% increase in “Exclusively” DE enrollments between Fall 2012 and Fall 2014. So this enrollment growth is due to increased enrollments. The contact also warned that the DE enrollments are a small proportion of their total enrollments, so the percentage change can be misleading.
It’s a Mystery
A large private institution in the west strongly declined to talk to us in 2014. That institution reported a loss in total enrollment at their main campus of 11% between Fall 2012 and Fall 2014. Even though they have extensive distance education offerings, they continued to report almost no distance education enrollments. Meanwhile, a sister campus of that institution reported a 57% increase in total enrollment and a 227% increase in DE enrollment in the same period. Could they be reporting all of the main campus distance education enrollments through the sister campus? It’s possible, but that would be odd. The sister campus advertises extensive offerings of its own in academic programs that differ from the main campus. The reporting at this institution remains a mystery.
Reporting is Improving, but the 2012 Data is Still a Shaky Base
The IPEDS distance education data allows us to compare institutions using a consistent set of expectations provided by the IPEDS survey. Observing institutions’ IPEDS data reporting since 2012 suggests that they are gaining the experience and improving their systems and reporting processes to ensure that the data is an accurate reflection of distance education at their institutions. This data continues to inform the industry and the students it serves.
In 2014, Phil Hill and Russ Poulin wrote an opinion piece that stated that, with these uncertainties, the 2012 data served as a shaky baseline. We hold by that statement, but are encouraged by the progress in improved reporting.
This also means that some of the increases for distance education enrollments that we reported earlier this year may be due to addressing the procedural undercounts and not due to additional enrollments. Without having numbers for the undercounts, it is impossible to gauge the exact impact of students going unreported.
Keep the IPEDS Distance Education Questions in the Surveys
The U.S. Department of Education is considering massive cuts to its IPEDS reporting requirements. We can understand the interest in stopping the collection of data that is not used. We encourage the Department to keep the distance education questions in future versions of the IPEDS Fall Enrollment reports.
Even with the problems cited, this is still the best data available.
Terri Taylor Straut
With help from….
Director, Policy and Analysis
Photo credit: “Confused” key from Morgue File.
When I was in my last semester of high school, I checked my family’s mailbox just as much as I checked Snapchat and Instagram combined. It was the season of admissions decisions, and I was getting letters from all the colleges I’d applied to.
But once I’d gotten into several schools, my attention shifted to my e-mail inbox. I was waiting on information that was just as critical: my financial aid offer from each college. I knew that for me, the amount of financial aid I got from a school mattered just as much as the general admissions decision. I’d fallen in love with each of the schools I’d visited, and I knew I’d be happy anywhere. Basically, my choice was going to come down to the money.
Analyzing different aid packages can seem like way too much math for the end of your senior year—at least it did to me—but it’s important stuff. Check out my four steps to make this analysis simpler.What to do once you get an aid offer 1. Make sure you know what you’re looking at.
The financial aid offer (sometimes called an award letter) typically comes in an e-mail from the college’s financial aid office. The offer includes the types and amounts of financial aid you’re eligible to receive from federal, state, private, and school sources. Be sure you understand what each type of aid is and whether it needs to be paid back. For example, when I got into UNC-Chapel Hill, my aid offer was a mix of scholarships, which I didn’t need to pay back, and private loans, which I did. My offer from Duke (booooo) had mainly the same stuff with some grant money mixed in.
Lucky for you, hundreds of colleges nationwide have signed on to present financial aid offers in a standardized format known as the Shopping Sheet. The Shopping Sheet is a standardized award letter template that makes it easy to compare financial aid offers from different schools. In addition to providing personalized information on financial aid and net costs, the Shopping Sheet also provides general information on the college, like graduation rate and loan default rate.2. Find your out-of-pocket cost to attend.
Now you’re going to want to see what you’ll be paying out of pocket if you decide to go to this school. Basically, your out-of-pocket cost (also known as net cost) is what it’ll cost you to attend minus the financial aid you receive that you don’t have to pay back, like grants and scholarships.
To find this amount, start with each school’s cost of attendance. Cost of attendance is a jumble of different expenses, from tuition to books to transportation. It even factors in a food allowance, but this is standardized across students, so it won’t take into account quirks like your $170-a-year Pop-Tart habit. From there, you want to subtract the free money (like grants and scholarships you were awarded) to come up with your out-of-pocket cost. This is the number you’ll want to compare across schools. Good news: If your college presents its aid offer as a Shopping Sheet, this will be calculated for you!
Your financial aid offer will probably include other types of aid too, like work-study and student loans. Remember that work-study is money that you earn through working, and it’s not applied directly to tuition. Also keep in mind that any loans are just borrowed money; you’ll have to pay them back with interest. Finally, you don’t have to accept the loans you’re offered—and if you do accept a loan, it’s okay to accept less than the full amount offered.3. Compare your aid offer with other schools’ offers.
Here’s the crux of the decision, where you pit aid offers against one another to see which school will be the most affordable. Your aid offer is unique to you and each school you apply to, so your aid amounts will vary from school to school. Obviously, cost of attendance will vary, too. This means that you’ll definitely find some discrepancies in what you’d pay out of pocket at the schools that admit you.
Another tool comes in handy here: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a great interface for comparing aid offers and attendance costs, with general college information lumped in. In short, it’s an interactive side-by-side of college Shopping Sheets.
For me, I ended up choosing the school with the lowest out-of-pocket cost of attendance. Shopping Sheets weren’t around when I was deciding on a college, so I had to do net calculations myself for each school once all the aid offers had come in.
Looking for more in-depth tips? Head over to the U.S. Department of Education’s page on comparing aid offers and figuring out net price.4. Compare the schools themselves.
Finally, it’s time to analyze the colleges a little more deeply to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Measures like graduation rate and income after graduation are great indicators of a college’s value. These benchmarks can help you come to a decision on where to enroll, especially if you’re down to just a few colleges with pretty similar net costs of attendance. Even if one college’s cost is a little higher, it might be worth paying a little more out of pocket if it means massively larger benefits later down the road.
When I was making this decision, I had about 27 different sites bookmarked on Internet Explorer (yes, Internet Explorer) as I tried to cobble together information from all over about the different schools I’d applied to. Nowadays, all this information is consolidated in the College Scorecard search tool.
The College Scorecard’s information is valuable no matter where you stand with your aid offers. College is a big investment, so you want to make sure that the school you pick is a good fit for you no matter what. But the resource comes in extra clutch when comparing aid offers doesn’t give you a clear winner.
All right, here are our takeaways: Keep an eye on your inboxes. Be on the lookout for different types of aid in your package. Figure out what you’re paying out of pocket (that includes loans!). Compare your offers. Compare your schools. And most of all, eat lots of Pop-Tarts.
Drew Goins is a senior journalism major at the University of North Carolina. He’s also an intern with the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office. Likes: politics, language, good puns. Dislikes: mainly kale.
Photo by Getty Images.
AfAmWomenLead Initiative Offers Diverse Cultural Experiences for Women and Girls of Color Nationwide
The African American Women Lead (AfAmWomenLead) Initiative was established by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans as a unique opportunity to harness the collective impact of the nation’s largest women civic organizations. AfAmWomenLead partners have committed to meet a monumental goal — one million hours of service with Black women and girls across the nation in 2016. AfAmWomenLead provides a platform for organizations, institutions, individuals, and other partners interested in engaging and supporting the development of Black women and girls.
To celebrate the important roles women and girls play in history, AfAmWomenLead choose March—Women’s History Month—for a national day of service surrounding cultural experiences and exploration by participating in Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day Live!
The Smithsonian, a key AfAmWomenLead partner, presented a special edition of its magazine’s Museum Day Live! To, “inspire women and girls of color in underserved communities.” Museum Day Live! extends participating cultural centers zoos, aquariums, and museums across the country to offer free, ticketed admission. Museum Day Live! had an incredible impact and included more than 520 partnering museums nationwide in every state and the District of Columbia.
On March 12, AfAmWomenLead participating organizations nationwide engaged in a day of service, accompanying young women and girls to participating institutions to celebrate the humanities. President’s Advisory Commissioner on Educational Excellence for African Americans and AfAmWomenLead Working Group co-chair TyKiah Wright coordinated community organizations, Columbus Museum of the Arts, and Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) to partner, bringing more than 250 women and girls of color for a day of exploration, dance and vocal performances, and educational opportunities. To empower and honor the experiences of women and girls of color a student-led panel posed a question for young women and girls to answer: “When did I realize I was talented?”
In D.C., the Initiative, along with teams from other U.S. Department of Education White House Initiatives, interacted with more than 150 young women at the Smithsonian Castle during its Ladies’ Lightning Leadership Talks, Teen Opportunities Fair, and meet and greet. During this time, attendees ranging from elementary- to college-aged women and girls, learned about internship and career opportunities, while engaging, and—in many instances—committing to support the goals of AfAmWomenLead.
In addition to supporting opportunities to honor and experience the humanities, AfAmWomenLead works to support the creation and sustaining of safe and supportive pre-Kindergarten through college completion learning environments and support systems, and advancing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) access and equity.
Through impactful partnerships like Museum Day Live!, AfAmWomenLead has identified additional opportunities to support our partners’ community service commitments, and welcome additional individuals, organizations and institutions to join this exciting campaign of service.
AfAmWomenLead partner YWCA USA has themed its signature campaign, Stand Against Racism, as On A Mission for Girls of Color. Partnering organizations nationwide will address the impact of institutional and structural racism in April.
Also in April, AfAmWomenLead partners will join schools and other organizations to support First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative, through its Better Make Room Campaign’s College Signing Days. Organization hosts will celebrate the higher education commitments, educational excellence and college completion of students in their communities.
We invite you to get involved with AfAmWomenLead and make a commitment of service to Black women and girls here.
Venicia Gray is a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. Fellow with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.