Department of Education ending practice of sharing some FAFSA information with Colleges

The U.S. Department of Education has made the decision to quit sharing some student information from their FAFSA that indicates which other colleges they are applying to and the order in which they list them on the form.

Starting next year, the department will no longer provide colleges the entire list of institutions that a student submits when filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA.

The federal government currently grants colleges access to that information, including the order in which students list the colleges where they are interested in applying.

Some college admissions offices and enrollment management consultants have found that information to be valuable because they can glean students’ relative interest in enrolling at different colleges — and essentially, in some cases, use that information against the students’ interests.

Colleges are keenly interested in what’s known as “FAFSA position” — the order in which high school students list their prospective institutions on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students can list up to 10 schools to receive their financial aid information, and the ones they list first strongly predict which enrollment offers they’re likely to accept.

A university concerned about its “yield” — a closely-watched measure that tracks how many accepted students actually enroll — may not extend an admission offer if the university is near the bottom of an otherwise qualified student’s list, for fear the offer will be rejected.

A college at the top of a student’s list, on the other hand, may not feel compelled to offer generous financial aid, since the student is seen as likely to accept without it.

Colleges don’t admit to these tactics publicly, but consultants who advise families on college selection say it’s an open secret that they occur.

The department plans to stop sharing the “FAFSA position” information with colleges starting with the forms that are processed this coming January for aid that will be awarded during the 2016-17 school year.