College Board announces easier CSS Profile, plus a ‘lighter, shorter’ version

Dive Brief: 

  • Students from families earning up to $100,000 will now be able to freely apply to the College Board’s CSS Profile, a tool used by some 300 colleges to award students institutional financial aid packages. 
  • In an announcement Wednesday, the College Board also said it would make the CSS Profile easier to complete and create a lighter version for colleges that need less information than the current one requires students to provide. 
  • Lifting the income cap for the fee waiver from about $45,000 or less for a family of four to the new level will double the number of students who can freely apply, according to the College Board. “Dramatically increasing the number of students who complete the CSS Profile for free helps us send a clear message about the accessibility of financial aid,” one university official said in the announcement. 

Dive Insight: 

Higher education institutions typically use the CSS Profile to glean more information from low-income students about their financial need than what is provided by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It tends to be used by private, selective colleges. 

The changes come after reporting by The Chronicle of Higher Education showed the process for completing the CSS Profile could be overly burdensome for low-income students. Some colleges even created their own applications to pare down the number of questions asked and to make them more easily understood. 

“There’s always conversation among the financial aid community, and certainly also with The College Board, about ways that we make the process better and easier for students who are applying to college,” said Gail Holt, outgoing member of the College Board’s CSS/Financial Assistance Assembly Council. 

The coronavirus pandemic caused concern about the financial pressures students and their families face, added Holt, who is also the financial aid dean at Amherst College, in Massachusetts. 

The College Board did not respond to Higher Ed Dive’s request for comment Thursday about what prompted the changes. However, the organization’s CEO said in its announcement that lifting the income cap for the fee waiver is meant to address a “troubling decline” in the number of students applying for financial aid. 

By mid-September, 58.4% of high school seniors had completed the FAFSA, down 4.1% from the year before, according to the National College Attainment Network. Those declines were concentrated among high schools with high populations of low-income and racial minority students. 

The College Board, which also administers the SAT, said it will streamline the CSS Profile so it will be easier to skip portions of the application for the 2022-23 academic year. 

The changes will improve the skip logic so low-income students who meet certain qualifications won’t have to answer questions that don’t apply to them, Holt said. Students will also be able to make corrections to their profiles for common errors. 

Additionally, the College Board is working with members to create a “lighter, shorter version” of the profile for universities that need more information than what’s provided by the FAFSA but less than what the current CSS Profile offers. That version will debut as early as fall 2022. 

“It’s important for students that we preserve a single, common institutional aid application,” said Dean Bentley, College Board’s executive director of financial aid engagement and services, Career and College Access, in the announcement

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