H&R Block College Financial Aid Application Assistance

Updated: Nov 21, 2017
Evidence Rating:
Top Tier

Highlights

  • Program:

    Streamlined personal assistance in completing a college financial aid application provided to low and moderate income families with a dependent child at or near college age.

  • Evaluation Methods:

    A large, multi-site randomized controlled trial (RCT).

  • Key Findings:

    A sizable increase in college attendance and persistence over the 3½-4 years following the program – e.g., 29% greater likelihood of attending college for two consecutive years.

To be eligible for federal financial aid for college, applicants must normally complete a detailed form – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or “FAFSA” – which in 2008 was eight pages in length with over 100 questions, and included three additional worksheets with nearly 40 questions. In this program, H&R Block – a national tax preparation company – provided streamlined personal assistance in completing the FAFSA to customers at their tax preparation offices who were low or moderate income and had a family member at or near college age without a bachelor’s degree.

Key elements of the assistance are summarized as follows: (i) specially-designed software used the family’s tax return data to answer most items on the FAFSA; (ii) the H&R Block tax professional conducted a brief (10 minute) interview with the family to answer the remaining questions; (iii) the tax professional provided immediate estimates of the amount of financial aid the targeted family member was eligible for, and the net tuition cost of four nearby public colleges; (iv) if all FAFSA information was complete, the tax professional offered to submit the FAFSA electronically to the U.S. Department of Education; and (v) if not all information was complete, a call center phoned the family after the interview to collect answers to the remaining questions and then facilitated submission of the FAFSA to the Department of Education.

As delivered in the study described in our full evidence summary, this program cost approximately $97 per program participant, in 2017 dollars. It also increased federal financial aid payments by an average of $402 per participant, as described below.

The program was delivered as part of a time-limited demonstration project; resources to foster program dissemination (e.g., a website) have not yet been developed.

To see our full evidence summary:
Download PDF

References

Bettinger, Eric P., Bridget Terry Long, Philip Oreopoulos, and Lisa Sanbonmatsu. “The Role of Application Assistance and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA Experiment.” Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 2012, vol. 127, no. 3.

Bettinger, Eric P., Bridget Terry Long, Philip Oreopoulos, and Lisa Sanbonmatsu. “The Role of Application Assistance and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA Experiment,” July 2011, linked here. (This paper reports on the program’s short-term effects, in the fall semester following the program.)

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