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

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  • Eric P. Bettinger
  • Bridget Terry Long
  • Philip Oreopoulos
  • Lisa Sanbonmatsu

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.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal The Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Volume (Year): 127 (2012)
Issue (Month): 3 ()
Pages: 1205-1242

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Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:127:y:2012:i:3:p:1205-1242

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Cited by:
  1. Cohodes, Sarah & Goodman, Joshua, 2013. "Merit Aid, College Quality and College Completion: Massachusetts' Adams Scholarship as an In-Kind Subsidy," Working Paper Series, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government rwp13-005, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  2. Amanda Pallais, 2013. "Small Differences that Matter: Mistakes in Applying to College," NBER Working Papers 19480, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Bruce, Donald J. & Carruthers, Celeste K., 2014. "Jackpot? The impact of lottery scholarships on enrollment in Tennessee," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(C), pages 30-44.
  4. Darolia, Rajeev, 2013. "Integrity versus access? The effect of federal financial aid availability on postsecondary enrollment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 101-114.
  5. Bleemer, Zachary & Zafar, Basit, 2014. "Information heterogeneity and intended college enrollment," Staff Reports, Federal Reserve Bank of New York 685, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  6. Bridget Terry Long, 2014. "The Financial Crisis and College Enrollment: How Have Students and Their Families Responded?," NBER Chapters, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, in: How the Financial Crisis and Great Recession Affected Higher Education National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. James J. Heckman & Stefano Mosso, 2014. "The Economics of Human Development and Social Mobility," Working Papers, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group 2014-004, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
  8. Cawley, John & Price, Joshua A., 2013. "A case study of a workplace wellness program that offers financial incentives for weight loss," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 32(5), pages 794-803.
  9. Lovenheim, Michael F. & Owens, Emily G., 2014. "Does federal financial aid affect college enrollment? Evidence from drug offenders and the Higher Education Act of 1998," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(C), pages 1-13.
  10. Borghans, Lex & Golsteyn, Bart H.H. & Stenberg, Anders, 2013. "Does Expert Advice Improve Educational Choice?," IZA Discussion Papers 7649, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  11. Goux, Dominique & Gurgand, Marc & Maurin, Eric, 2014. "Adjusting Your Dreams? The Effect of School and Peers on Dropout Behaviour," IZA Discussion Papers 7948, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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