Poster Paper: Increasing Fafsa Completion Among Hud-Assisted Youth

Friday, November 4, 2016
Columbia Ballroom (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Michael DiDomenico1,2, Leah Lozier3 and Barry Steffen3, (1)U.S. General Services Administration, (2)George Washington University, (3)U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

The Social and Behavioral Science Team, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the US Department of Education have launched an experiment designed to increase FAFSA completion among HUD-assisted youth by sending them information on what they need to do to apply for financial aid.  The study team randomly assigned youth ages 17 to 20 in households with housing vouchers to receive one of nine mailings with message variations urging them to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The design also includes a control group that received a standard mailing with no specific message about the FAFSA.  Each of the nine message variations build on insights from the behavioral sciences, for example by including a personal story from First Lady Michelle Obama that could serve to motivate educational aspiration and reduce stereotype threat.  The study is sufficiently powered with at least 5,000 individuals in each of the nine treatment groups and a control group of over 150,000 individuals. Mailings were sent in March 2016 to coincide with tax season (when families are likely to have necessary financial information available).  This paper reports on the effect of the messages on FAFSA completion rates, with possible later analyses including college enrollment, selectivity, and graduation rates.  In addition to building on prior research and policy aimed at reducing barriers to FAFSA completion (e.g., Bettinger et al.), this study provides evidence of how federal agencies can collaborate to improve efficient access to public benefits.