Benefits Data Trust and College Board to provide FAFSA assistance at scale
Chatbot named “Penny” helps students overcome common stumbling blocks
Philadelphia, PA, January 9, 2020 – Benefits Data Trust (BDT) and the College Board have teamed up to pilot new strategies to help students nationwide complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process – the gateway to billions of dollars in grants and scholarships.
In the first phase of the project, more than 440,000 students currently taking part in the College Board Opportunity Scholarship program are being offered free personalized FAFSA assistance through a new SMS chatbot named Penny. Rigorous research has found that personalized FAFSA assistance dramatically increases college enrollment and persistence, but the field has struggled to provide such assistance at scale.
High school seniors can sign up for FAFSA assistance from Penny by registering for the College Board Opportunity Scholarship program at cb.org/opportunity and opting into it from their account.
Completing the FAFSA unlocks all federal grants, loans, and work-study, as well as many state and college scholarships. Despite major progress simplifying the FAFSA, it remains a challenge for many to complete, preventing eligible students from receiving billions of dollars in grants and deterring many from pursing higher education altogether. In 2018, for example, only 61 percent of high school graduates completed the FAFSA, meaning students are leaving billions of Pell Grant dollars on the table. Low-income students are eligible for up to $6,195 per year in federal Pell Grants that do not need to be repaid.
“We’re thrilled to be working with the College Board to pilot using technology to provide personalized FAFSA assistance at scale,” said Pauline Abernathy, BDT’s chief strategy officer. “BDT has successfully used data and technology to help families secure more than $7 billion in assistance for food, healthcare, and housing, and we’re excited to help people access student financial aid so they can complete college and increase their economic mobility.”
In 2018, the median earnings of a full-time worker 25 and over with a bachelor’s degree was $65,400, significantly more than the median earnings of a full-time worker 25 and over with a high school diploma, which was $40,500.
“Each year, the College Board helps millions of kids find a college that’s right for them,” said Jennifer Mulhern, VP of Mission Implementation at College Board, “and we believe BDT’s innovative program will make it so much easier for students to complete the FAFSA, a critical step on that journey.”
About Benefits Data Trust
Benefits Data Trust (BDT) is a national nonprofit that helps people live healthier, more independent lives by creating smarter ways to access essential benefits and services. Each year, BDT helps tens of thousands of people receive critical supports using data, technology, targeted outreach, and policy change. Since inception in 2005, BDT has screened more than one million households and secured over $7 billion in benefits and services. BDT employs more than 170 people and provides enrollment assistance to individuals in six states and policy assistance to states nationwide. For more information, visit bdtrust.org and follow us on Twitter @BeneDataTrust.