New Jersey: The Importance of Paperwork

Almost 50,000 low-income New Jersey students are apparently in danger of losing their financial aid because they didn’t fill out some form. According to an article by Kelly Heyboer in The Star-Ledger:

College financial aid officials and the state Higher Education Student Assistance Authority [HESAA] are in a last-minute scramble to track down the students and their missing paperwork before the Nov. 15 deadline. The mostly low-income students could lose scholarships and grants ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than $10,000 a year.

A spokeswoman for HESAA said that the organization attempted to contact the students by telephone and email. HESSA didn’t know how many of the students from whom it wants information are actually still enrolled.

The organization says it needs the extra form due to the simplification of the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form earlier this year. New Jersey apparently thinks it must have some of the information removed from FAFSA “including data on a family’s Social Security benefits and earned income tax credits,” according to the article.

Because of this little problem, colleges are apparently trying to work with the HESAA to get students to fill out the paperwork: “Bottom line is that coordination between schools and HESAA substantially increases the response rates from students,” said a HESAA spokeswoman.

That’s not really the “bottom line,” meaning the most important aspect of this situation. The bottom line is that students will lose some crucial money because they didn’t fill out a non-crucial form. It would be more efficient just to skip the whole damn thing.

This sort of information was removed from FAFSA precisely because it was unnecessary. Somehow other states in the union don’t seem to need this stuff in order to distribute financial aid. This may be because it can be estimated (fairly easily, though not precisely) from the other information on the financial aid form.

This is the first year New Jersey has tried to make students fill out another aid form. The (admittedly longer) FAFSA used to be enough.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer