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First-generation and Pell Grant-eligible, navigating the financial aid verification process: a case study

Schlittenhart, Emily (2021) First-generation and Pell Grant-eligible, navigating the financial aid verification process: a case study. Doctoral thesis, Northern Arizona University.

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Seeking admission to post-secondary education can pose a challenging landscape for first-generation college students (FGCSs) (Chen & Carrol, 2005; Engle, 2007; London, 1989, 1996; Padgett et al., 2012). One of the most significant challenges this student group faces is navigating finances and paying for college (Bennett et al., 2015; Dumais & Ward, 2010; Engle, 2007; London, 1989, 1996; Padgett et al., 2012; Rubio et al., 2017). Many FGCSs are from low-income families (Higher Education Opportunity Act, 2008), placing them in the Pell Grant-eligible range for federal financial aid (Federal Student Aid, n.d.b). Pell Grants are awarded to students from low-socioeconomic status with the most financial need of any college-going student (Federal Student Aid, n.d.b). Data indicates that half of Pell Grant-eligible students are selected to complete the financial aid verification process after the student fills out and submits their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) (Warick, 2018). The 50% selection rate for Pell-eligible students is nearly three times higher than the national average selection rate for the 2020-2021 academic year, which sits at 18% (Hoover, 2020). The verification process requires additional documentation to be submitted by the student or student’s family to the institution of higher education to verify the accuracy of what was listed on the FAFSA, a step that causes additional delays and potential problems for incoming applicants. Additionally, the verification process has been identified as a significant hurdle selected students must overcome to receive the financial aid needed for attendance (Kreighbaum, 2019; Smith, 2018a; Wiederspan, 2019). This study assessed how FGCSs, who were Pell Grant-eligible and selected to complete financial aid verification, successfully navigated the verification process during their transition to a university. This study is a qualitative case study, and the researcher interviewed fourteen participants through videoconferencing. This study utilized Nancy Schlossberg’s (1981) transition theory and the factors of adaptation during a transition as the conceptual framework to build the research questions, interview questions, and guide how the data were analyzed to understand what factors contributed to the participants navigating the verification process successfully. All fourteen participants were FGCS, Pell Grant-eligible, and had been selected to complete the financial aid verification process during their initial college-going progression to a university in the southwest United States. Results from this study showed that the financial aid verification process posed a significant barrier for some students. It can be a stressful experience in a litany of already confusing steps for a student population unfamiliar with the college-going process. Low-socioeconomic FGCSs do not have the social capital, economic resources, or familial support their generational counterparts have when enrolling in a university. The addition of this particularly significant barrier to admission can be a deterrent to their enrollment. This study also outlines the factors of adaptation from Schlossberg’s (1981) transition theory the participants utilized to navigate the verification process and receive their needed financial aid. It also focuses on how this federally mandated process targets lower socioeconomic students by having them prove their financial and societal status through the verification process. Keywords: first-generation college students, Pell Grant-eligible, financial aid verification, factors of adaptation, transition theory

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Publisher’s Statement: © Copyright is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
Keywords: factors of adaptation ; financial aid verification ; first-generation college students; Pell Grant-eligible ; transition theory; Low-income students
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
NAU Depositing Author Academic Status: Student
Department/Unit: Graduate College > Theses and Dissertations
College of Education > Educational Leadership
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2022 18:49
Last Modified: 14 Feb 2022 18:49
URI: https://openknowledge.nau.edu/id/eprint/5699

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