GAO Report: Homeless Youth Face Challenges Accessing Financial Aid
Unaccompanied homeless youth face a number of challenges securing financial aid for college, including complex eligibility criteria and an ongoing need to verify their homelessness, according to a report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Many homeless students also lack a steady support network to introduce them to available resources, and online information can be incomplete or disjointed.
GAO published its findings in May 2016, after a thorough review of data on college enrollment and completion, relevant federal laws and guidance, and stakeholder interviews. The report highlights obstacles faced by both young people experiencing homelessness and those who have been in foster care, two scenarios that often overlap as former foster youth face difficult paths to adulthood.
As the primary form for determining eligibility for financial aid, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) allows “independent youth” to leave out their parents’ financial information. However, receiving this status as an unaccompanied homeless youth can be tricky for students who rely on their college’s financial aid office for verification, according to the report. Common obstacles include extensive requests for documentation by administrators unfamiliar with youth homelessness and invasive questions about why a student is homeless rather than whether they fall within the appropriate category.
The GAO report includes six recommendations for executive action, such as asking the Department of Education to create easy-to-find sources of online information tailored to homeless and foster youth. Other recommendations focus on improving information made available to social service professionals and financial aid administrators, including a form they can use to document unaccompanied homeless youth status.
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