Black, Latino college students disproportionately picked for audits: analysis

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An analysis of federal data conducted by The Washington Post found that the Department of Education has disproportionately chosen students from majority Black and Latino areas to be audited.

The Post found that almost a fourth of Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) applicants were picked to be audited for the 2019-2020 academic year. In comparison, the newspaper notes that the IRS audited less than half a percent of all returns in the previous year.

Using information obtained from an open records request, the Post found that FAFSA applicants from Black-majority communities were 1.8 times more likely to be audited than students from white-majority neighborhoods. Students from Latino-majority communities were 1.4 times more likely to be audited.

Many students drop out of the auditing process altogether, the Post notes, with the Education Department estimating 11 percent step away. Financial aid experts, however, told the newspaper that 25 percent could be more accurate. 

Students who fail to provide information risk losing access to grants, scholarships and loans.

Kim Cook, executive director of the nonprofit National College Attainment Network, told the Post that the pandemic has made it even harder for students to think about college when dealing with deaths in the family and loss of income.

“If we get students to continue down the path to keep their options open for college, hurdles and barriers like verification can so easily knock them off that path,” Cook said.

The Post reports that the number of students audited has dropped, noting that Congress had recently taken steps so students no longer have to self-report income. The omnibus spending bill signed last December, for example, contains a provision that makes it easier for the IRS and the Education Department to share tax return data.

Tags Department of Education FAFSA IRS Scholarship Student financial aid The Washington Post

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