GAO HIGHER EDUCATION. Improved Tax Information Could Help Families Pay for College. Report to the Committee on Finance, U.S.

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1 GAO United Sttes Government Accountbility Office Report to the Committee on Finnce, U.S. Sente My 2012 HIGHER EDUCATION Improved Tx Informtion Could Help Fmilies Py for College GAO

2 My 2012 HIGHER EDUCATION Improved Tx Informtion Could Help Fmilies Py for College Highlights of GAO , report to the Committee on Finnce, U.S. Sente Why GAO Did This Study The federl government provides billions of dollrs in ssistnce ech yer to students nd fmilies through federl student id progrms uthorized under Title IV of the Higher Eduction Act of 1965 nd through tx expenditures, such s credits nd deductions. GAO ws sked to (1) describe the size nd distribution of Title IV student id nd tx expenditures vilble to ssist students nd fmilies with higher eduction expenses; (2) ssess the extent to which tx filers select higher eduction provisions tht mximize their tx benefit; (3) summrize wht is known bout the effect of student id nd tx expenditures on student outcomes; nd (4) describe fctors tht contribute to the effectiveness nd efficiency of federl student ssistnce progrms. GAO nlyzed dt from Eduction, IRS, nd the Bord of Governors of the Federl Reserve, nd conducted literture review for originl empiricl reserch. GAO lso developed frmework for evluting federl ssistnce nd vlidted it with recognized experts of higher eduction finnce. Wht GAO Recommends GAO recommends (1) tht IRS nd Eduction work together to develop strtegy to improve informtion provided to tx filers who pper eligible to clim tx provision but do not nd (2) tht Eduction sponsor nd conduct evlutive reserch into the effects of Title IV progrms nd tx expenditures t improving student outcomes. Eduction nd IRS greed with GAO s recommendtions. Eduction noted tht while it does not hve ccess to tx dt, it will work with IRS to ssist in txpyer outrech. View GAO For more informtion, contct Jmes R. White t (202) or or George A. Scott t (202) or Wht GAO Found Multiple Title IV progrms nd tx expenditures provided substntil id to popultions cross income levels. In 2009, 12.8 million students received Title IV id, nd pproximtely 18-million tx filers climed higher eduction tx benefit for current expenses. Recent increses in both progrms from 2008 to 2009 my be becuse of enrollment increses nd legisltive ctions, mong other fctors. Title IV grnts tend to benefit students nd fmilies with incomes below the ntionl medin (bout $52,000 from ), while lons nd work-study serve these students nd those with fmily incomes bove the medin. Most tx benefits from the tuition nd fees deduction nd the prentl exemption for dependent students went to households with incomes bove $60,000, wheres the mjority of benefits from the other higher eduction tx expenditures in GAO s review such s the Americn opportunity credit went to households with lower incomes. Tx filers do not lwys select tx expenditures tht mximize their potentil tx benefits, possibly becuse filers re unwre of their eligibility for the tx credit or deduction or re confused bout their use. GAO nlyzed 2009 IRS dt for returns with informtion on eduction expenses nd found bout 14 percent of filers (1.5 million of lmost 11-million eligible returns) filed to clim credit or deduction for which they pper eligible. On verge, these filers lost tx benefit of $466. The Internl Revenue Service (IRS) nd Deprtment of Eduction (Eduction) hve tken steps to provide informtion on these provisions, but the number of filers filing to clim higher eduction tx provision suggests more could be done. Developing coordinted, comprehensive strtegy to better inform eligible students could improve tke-up of these tx provisions. Despite efforts by Eduction, reserch on the effects of federl ssistnce for higher eduction on student outcomes such s the likelihood students will continue their eduction remins limited. Reserchers hve exmined the effects of federl ssistnce on limited bsis, such s only for certin sttes or groups of students, but these studies provide n incomplete view of the effects of federl ssistnce. Continuing gps in reserch on the effectiveness of federl ssistnce my be due, in prt, to dt nd methodologicl chllenges tht hve proved difficult to overcome. Recent chnges in Title IV id nd tx expenditures such s the introduction of the Americn opportunity credit in 2009 my provide opportunities for evlutive reserch, but Eduction officils told GAO they hve not conducted such reserch. In n environment of constrined budgets, evlutive reserch cn help inform policy decisions. GAO identified fctors tht contribute to effective nd efficient higher eduction ssistnce progrms to help policymkers llocte limited resources mong multiple progrms. Fctors include ssessing whether progrm chieves its gols nd contributes to demonstrble results nd whether it fcilittes use by progrm beneficiries. GAO developed frmework of questions tht cn be used s policy tool for considering improvements to current progrms or designing fetures of new progrms. United Sttes Government Accountbility Office

3 Contents Letter 1 Bckground 4 Multiple Title IV Progrms nd Tx Expenditures Provided Substntil Aid cross Income Levels 11 Txpyers Do Not Alwys Select Provisions Tht Mximize Potentil Tx Benefits 26 Reserch on Effects of Federl Assistnce for Higher Eduction Remins Limited 33 Fctors Tht Contribute to the Effectiveness nd Efficiency of Federl Higher Eduction Assistnce Progrms 40 Conclusions 43 Recommendtions for Executive Action 44 Agency Comments nd Our Evlution 44 Appendix I Objectives, Scope, nd Methodology 47 Appendix II Descriptions of Title IV Progrms nd Higher Eduction-Relted Tx Expenditures 54 Appendix III Text to Accompny Interctive Figures 1, 2, 6, 7, nd 8 61 Appendix IV Comments from the Deprtment of Eduction 80 Appendix V Comments from the Internl Revenue Service 82 Appendix VI GAO Contcts nd Stff Acknowledgments 85 Bibliogrphy 86 Pge i GAO Higher Eduction

4 Relted GAO Products 90 Tbles Tble 1: Estimted Suboptiml Choices on Federl Tx Returns Mde by Txpyers in 2009 Tble 2: Reserch We Reviewed on the Effects of Federl Assistnce Is Limited nd Cnnot Be Generlized Tble 3: GAO Frmework for Evluting Federl Higher Eduction Assistnce Progrms Tble 4: Percentge of Returns Included in GAO s Anlysis of Txpyers Mximizing Their Benefits in Tx Yer 2009 Tble 5: Description of Federl Student Aid Progrms Authorized under Title IV of the Higher Eduction Act Tble 6: Description of Selected Higher Eduction Tx Expenditures (Tx Yer 2010) Tble 7: Text to Accompny Interctive Figure 1: Illustrtion of Plnning nd Pyment Processes for Higher Eduction Expenses Tble 8: Text to Accompny Interctive Figure 2: Size nd Chrcteristics of Title IV Aid Progrms nd Higher Eduction Tx Expenditures Tble 9: Text to Accompny Interctive Figure 6: Number nd Percentge of Title IV Aid Recipients nd Dollrs Received, by Income Ctegory nd Dependency Sttus, (Informtion for Bse Grphic) Tble 10: Text to Accompny Interctive Figure 6: Number nd Percentge of Title IV Aid Recipients nd Dollrs Received, by Income Ctegory nd Dependency Sttus, (Informtion for Roll-over) Tble 11: Text to Accompny Interctive Figure 7: Number nd Percentge of Cmpus-Bsed Aid Recipients nd Dollrs Received, by Income Ctegory nd Dependency Sttus, (Informtion for Bse Grphic) Tble 12: Text to Accompny Interctive Figure 7: Number nd Percentge of Cmpus-Bsed Aid Recipients nd Dollrs Received, by Income Ctegory nd Dependency Sttus, (Informtion for Roll-over) Pge ii GAO Higher Eduction

5 Tble 13: Text to Accompny Interctive Figure 8: Number nd Percentge of Tx Filers Climing Higher Eduction Tx Expenditures nd Totl Benefits, by Income Ctegory, 2009 (Informtion for Bse Grphic) Tble 14: Text to Accompny Interctive Figure 8: Number nd Percentge of Tx Filers Climing Higher Eduction Tx Expenditures nd Totl Benefits, by Income Ctegory, 2009 (Informtion for Roll-over) Figures Figure 1: Illustrtion of Plnning nd Pyment Processes for Higher Eduction Expenses Figure 2: Size nd Chrcteristics of Title IV Aid Progrms nd Higher Eduction Tx Expenditures Figure 3: Number of Recipients of Title IV Progrms nd Tx Expenditures Who Py for Current Expenses, Figure 4: Amount of Benefits from Selected Title IV Progrms nd Tx Expenditures Tht Py for Current Expenses, Figure 5: Tx Benefits Received by Tx Filers Climing the Tuition Deduction, Hope Credit, LLC, nd AOC, Figure 6: Number nd Percentge of Title IV Aid Recipients nd Dollrs Received, by Income Ctegory nd Dependency Sttus, Figure 7: Number nd Percentge of Cmpus-Bsed Aid Recipients nd Dollrs Received, by Income Ctegory nd Dependency Sttus, Figure 8: Number nd Percentge of Tx Filers Climing Higher Eduction Tx Provisions nd Totl Benefits, by Income Ctegory, Pge iii GAO Higher Eduction

6 Abbrevitions AOC EFC EITC ESA FAFSA FSEOG GAO GPRAMA IES IRC IRS LLC NBER NPSAS PLUS QTP SCF SOI Americn opportunity credit expected fmily contribution Erned Income Tx Credit eduction svings ccount Free Appliction for Federl Student Aid Federl Supplementl Eductionl Opportunity Grnt Government Accountbility Office Government Performnce nd Results Act Moderniztion Act of 2010 Institute of Eduction Sciences Internl Revenue Code Internl Revenue Service lifetime lerning credit Ntionl Bureu of Economic Reserch Ntionl Postsecondry Student Aid Study Prent Lons for Undergrdute Students qulified tuition progrm Survey of Consumer Finnces Sttistics of Income This is work of the U.S. government nd is not subject to copyright protection in the United Sttes. The published product my be reproduced nd distributed in its entirety without further permission from GAO. However, becuse this work my contin copyrighted imges or other mteril, permission from the copyright holder my be necessry if you wish to reproduce this mteril seprtely. Pge iv GAO Higher Eduction

7 United Sttes Government Accountbility Office Wshington, DC My 18, 2012 The Honorble Mx Bucus Chirmn The Honorble Orrin Htch Rnking Member Committee on Finnce United Sttes Sente The federl government provides billions of dollrs in ssistnce ech yer to help millions of students nd fmilies meet the costs of higher eduction. This ssistnce is provided through federl student id progrms uthorized under Title IV of the Higher Eduction Act of 1965, s mended, (Title IV) nd through tx expenditures reductions in federl tx libilities tht result from provisions in the tx code such s tx credits, deductions, exemptions, nd tx-preferred svings progrms. Providing federl finncil ssistnce in these vried wys presents students nd their fmilies with multiple tools to help them py higher eduction expenses. However, s we hve previously reported, it my be difficult for fmilies to understnd higher eduction tx expenditures nd use them correctly. 1 Moreover, policymkers hve rised questions bout the effect of federl ssistnce on student outcomes such s grdution rtes, nd whether there is n pproprite return on the federl investment. In ddition, the existence of multiple progrms with similr gols nd beneficiries could potentilly be n indictor of overlp or dupliction of federl efforts. Mny meningful results tht the federl government seeks to chieve including those for higher eduction require the coordinted efforts of more thn one gency. The GPRA Moderniztion Act of (GPRAMA) mended the Government Performnce Results Act of 1993 to estblish new frmework for providing more crosscutting nd integrted pproch to focusing on results nd improving government 1 GAO, Higher Eduction: Multiple Higher Eduction Tx Incentives Crete Opportunities for Txpyers to Mke Costly Mistkes, GAO T (Wshington, D.C.: My 1, 2008) nd Student Aid nd Postsecondry Tx Preferences: Limited Reserch Exists on Effectiveness of Tools to Assist Students nd Fmilies through Title IV Student Aid nd Tx Preferences, GAO (Wshington, D.C.: July 29, 2005). 2 Pub. L. No , 124 Stt (Jn. 4, 2011). Pge 1 GAO Higher Eduction

8 performnce. Moving forwrd, GPRAMA implementtion cn help inform tough choices in setting priorities s government policymkers ddress the rpidly building fiscl pressures fcing our ntionl government. In response to your request, this report ddresses the following objectives: (1) describe the size nd distribution of federl grnts, lons, nd tx expenditures vilble to ssist students nd fmilies with higher eduction expenses; (2) ssess the extent to which tx filers select higher eduction provisions tht mximize their tx benefit; (3) summrize wht is known bout the effect of grnts, lons, nd tx expenditures on student ttendnce, choice, persistence, 3 nd completion; nd (4) describe fctors tht contribute to the effectiveness nd efficiency of federl higher eduction student ssistnce progrms. To describe Title IV id nd higher eduction tx expenditures, we nlyzed the most recently vilble dt nd reviewed relevnt federl lws, regultions, nd guidnce from the U.S. Deprtment of Eduction (Eduction), Internl Revenue Service (IRS), nd the Bord of Governors of the Federl Reserve System (Federl Reserve). We selected Title IV progrms tht served more thn 500,000 prticipnts in school yer We selected tx expenditures tht (1) re designed to ssist students nd their fmilies sve for, py current expenses, or repy expenses for higher eduction; (2) hve eligibility requirements tht re not bsed on criteri other thn income or higher eduction expenses; (3) were vilble in tx yers ; nd (4) hd more thn 50,000 tx 4 filers clim the benefit in Our nlysis of dt from Eduction s Ntionl Postsecondry Student Aid Study (NPSAS), IRS s Sttistics of Income (SOI) individul tx return file, nd the Federl Reserve s 2007 Survey of Consumer Finnces (SCF) re subject to smpling errors becuse these dt sets re bsed on smples. Unless otherwise noted, ll percentge estimtes bsed on the SOI nd NPSAS hve 95 percent confidence intervls tht re within 10 percentge points of the estimte itself, nd ll numericl estimtes other thn percentges hve 95 percent confidence intervls tht re within 10 percent of the estimte itself. The 95 percent confidence intervls for ll 3 Persistence is the likelihood tht students will continue their eduction. 4 See pp. I for detils on our reserch scope. In totl, we exmined seven Title IV progrms nd eight tx expenditures. Progrm descriptions for ech re provided in pp. II. Pge 2 GAO Higher Eduction

9 SCF estimtes re provided long with the estimtes in tble notes or footnotes. To ssess the relibility of the dt we nlyzed, we reviewed gency documenttion nd interviewed gency officils fmilir with the dt. We determined tht these dt were sufficiently relible for our purposes. To ssess the extent to which tx filers selected higher eduction tx provisions tht mximized their tx benefit, we combined informtion from the SOI individul tx file with informtion from Form 1098-T Tuition Sttement, which provides informtion on students enrollment sttus t n eductionl institution. We then clculted which tx provision would mximize filers tx benefits bsed on progrm eligibility criteri for tx yer Our nlysis only covers portion of ll returns climing n eduction credit or tuition deduction. Our nlysis is limited to tx filers who ppered eligible for the lifetime lerning credit (LLC) or tuition nd fees deduction (tuition deduction) in 2009, hd 1098-T with informtion on the student s eduction expenses, nd hd tx libility fter climing other tx benefits. After eliminting returns where eligibility ws not cler, we included only 29 percent of returns in our nlysis of filers with 1098-T but selecting neither the LLC nor the tuition deduction in Appendix I provides detils on the percentge of returns included in our nlysis. Our findings could lso be influenced if institutions reported inccurte expense informtion on the 1098-T. Also, our nlysis did not consider whether txpyer who ppered to mke suboptiml choice by not climing n LLC or tuition deduction did so to void being subject to lterntive minimum tx libility. 6 To estimte the effect stte tx lws my hve on the optiml choices of txpyers filing their federl income txes, we utilized the Ntionl Bureu of Economic Reserch s (NBER) TAXSIM Model, model tht clcultes estimted tx libilities under U.S. federl nd stte income tx lws. To summrize wht is known bout the effect of grnts, lons, nd tx expenditures on student ttendnce, choice, persistence, nd completion, we conducted literture review for originl reserch published since our 5 See pp. I for full discussion of our methodology nd its limittions. 6 All txpyers subject to regulr tx re lso subject to the lterntive minimum tx, regrdless of the income tx brcket or whether they clim certin exclusions, deductions, or credits. Txpyers my be limited in the credits they cn clim bsed on their lterntive minimum tx clcultions. Pge 3 GAO Higher Eduction

10 previous report in We serched literture tht provides originl empiricl dt nlyses ccording to professionl stndrds of econometric nlysis for their methodologicl rigor nd contins cceptbly identified sttisticl estimtes. We identified fctors tht contribute to the effectiveness nd efficiency of federl higher eduction ssistnce progrms by reviewing criteri from prior nd ongoing GAO studies. We supplemented this review nd vlidted our frmework by conducting semi-structured interviews with five cdemic experts in higher eduction nd economic policy. We selected experts bsed on the relevnce of their published work on higher eduction ssistnce, their recognition in the professionl community, their demonstrted expertise in Title IV progrms or tx expenditures, nd others recommendtions. See ppendix I for more informtion bout our scope nd methodology. We conducted this performnce udit from June 2011 to My 2012 in ccordnce with generlly ccepted government uditing stndrds. Those stndrds require tht we pln nd perform the udit to obtin sufficient, pproprite evidence to provide resonble bsis for our findings nd conclusions bsed on our udit objectives. We believe tht the evidence obtined provides resonble bsis for our findings nd conclusions bsed on our udit objectives. Bckground Title IV id nd tx expenditures help reduce the cost of ttendnce for students nd fmilies. Students nd fmilies my be eligible for multiple Title IV progrms nd tx expenditures, depending on ech progrm s rules. We identified seven Title IV progrms nd eight tx expenditures tht help students nd fmilies sve for, py, nd repy the costs of higher eduction; the seven Title IV progrms we reviewed ccount for bout 89 percent of the totl id vilble for higher eduction nd trining through Eduction in fiscl yer Two deprtments within 7 GAO These student outcomes re used in higher eduction reserch nd hve been the focus of congressionl concern s expressed in requests for our work from Congress nd sttutorily estblished study committee report. While reserchers hve studied other metrics to mesure student outcomes, such s lbor mrket outcomes, these re outside the scope of this review. 8 These totls do not include ll Title IV progrms or higher eduction provisions listed in the Publiction 970 Tx Benefits for Eduction. For detils on which progrms nd tx expenditures we excluded from this review, see pp. II. Pge 4 GAO Higher Eduction

11 the scope of this review hve responsibility for federl higher eduction ssistnce: Eduction, which dministers Title IV progrms; nd the Deprtment of the Tresury (Tresury), which dministers higher eduction tx provisions. In fiscl yer 2010, Eduction provided pproximtely $37.5 billion in grnts nd mde more thn $104.3 billion in lon ssistnce vilble through Title IV progrms reviewed in this report. 9 In the sme yer, revenue losses from higher eduction tx provisions reviewed in this report the mount of revenue the government forgoes were n estimted $25 billion. 10 Students receive Title IV id while they re in school nd use it to py for current eduction expenses. Tx expenditures, on the other hnd, rech widely cross students life spns. For exmple, tx-preferred svings vehicles llow fmilies to sve for future expenses; tx credits help fmilies py for current expenses; nd the student lon interest deduction helps people repy expenses fter their eduction. Mjor progrms re summrized below, nd detiled descriptions of Title IV progrms nd tx expenditures re in ppendix II. Title IV Aid Federl ssistnce is provided to students nd fmilies through multiple Title IV grnt nd lon progrms. Grnts such s Pell Grnts reduce the cost of higher eduction for the student nd do not need to be repid. Federl student lons, which include subsidized nd unsubsidized Direct Stfford lons nd Prent Lons for Undergrdute Students (PLUS) 9 This totl does not include consolidtion lons which llow borrowers to combine one or more of their federl eduction lons into new lon becuse these lons re outside the scope of this report. Throughout this report, we present the fce vlue of Title IV lons wrded to students, rther thn their economic subsidy vlue to the student or the credit subsidy cost the estimted long-term cost to the government of direct lon or lon gurntee. Although Title IV lons must be repid, they cn provide subsidy by offering funds to students who could not otherwise find lenders nd by offering lower interest rtes thn re vilble in the non-title IV privte lon mrket. 10 This is the net sum of estimtes from the Fiscl Yer 2012 Anlyticl Perspectives, Budget of the U.S. Government for the following tx expenditures: Americn opportunity credit, lifetime lerning credit, tuition nd fees deduction, student lon interest deduction, stte prepid tuition plns ( type of qulified tuition progrm), Coverdell eduction svings ccounts, nd the prentl exemption for students ged 19 to 23. Sums of tx expenditure estimtes must be interpreted crefully. While summing the individul tx expenditure estimtes is useful for guging the generl mgnitude of the federl revenue involved, it does not tke into ccount possible interctions between the individul tx code provisions. Pge 5 GAO Higher Eduction

12 lons, lso help students nd their fmilies finnce the costs of higher eduction but must be repid. Title IV lso uthorizes progrms tht re funded by the government nd dministered by prticipting higher eduction institutions, which re collectively known s cmpus-bsed id. 11 A substntil portion of Title IV id is wrded bsed on the mount of student s finncil need, which is generlly the difference between student s cost of ttendnce nd n estimte of the student s (nd his or her fmily s bility in the cse of dependent student) bility to py these costs clled the expected fmily contribution (EFC). To pply for Title IV id, students or fmilies submit Free Appliction for Federl Student Aid (FAFSA), which includes informtion on the student s nd/or fmily s income, ssets, nd federl income tx expenses. After Eduction processes n pplicnt s FAFSA, report summrizing the EFC nd the student s federl id eligibility is sent to the pplicnt or mde vilble online. After dmission, colleges send pplicnts wrd letters tht include the types nd mounts of federl, stte, nd institutionl id for which the student would be eligible, should the student decide to enroll. Tx Expenditures Federl ssistnce is lso provided to students nd fmilies through multiple tx expenditures. For tx yer 2010, IRS guidnce on higher eduction tx expenditures, Publiction 970, Tx Benefits for Eduction, describes severl tx credits, deductions, nd tx-preferred svings vehicles tht help students nd fmilies py for qulified higher eduction expenses. 12 Tx credits such s the Americn opportunity credit (AOC) nd the lifetime lerning credit (LLC) reduce tx filers income tx libility on dollr-for-dollr bsis for qulified eduction expenses. Tx deductions, such s the tuition nd fees deduction (tuition deduction), permit tx filers to subtrct qulified eduction expenses from income tht would 11 Specificlly, these progrms re Federl Work-Study, Federl Perkins Lon progrms, nd Federl Supplementl Eduction Opportunity Grnts (FSEOG). Work-study is employment in on-cmpus nd certin off-cmpus jobs tht py students t lest the current federl minimum wge. The college or off-cmpus employer pys portion of the student s wges, while the federl government pys the reminder. 12 For detils on ech tx provision, including the tx benefits nd eligibility requirements, see pp. II. Pge 6 GAO Higher Eduction

13 otherwise be txble. 13 Therefore, deductions reduce filers tx libility less thn credits for ny given mount climed. 14 To benefit from higher eduction tx credit or the tuition deduction, tx filer must use tx form 1040 or 1040A nd hve n djusted gross income 15 below the tx provisions sttutorily specified income limits, mong other requirements. Tx-preferred svings vehicles, including qulified tuition progrms (lso known s 529 plns) nd Coverdell eduction svings ccounts (ESA) llow tx filers to sve for eduction expenses (using post-tx income), nd in some cses prepy tuition, without pying tx on the income from those investments. Tx penlties pply if the funds re not used for qulified eduction expenses. Prents of children ttending college cn lso benefit from tx provisions not listed in the Publiction 970. For exmple, filers cn clim prentl personl exemption for dependent who is ge 19 through 23 nd fulltime student t lest 5 months of the yer. Exemptions reduce txble income by permitting tx filers to deduct certin mount from their gross income for ech dependent they clim. In ddition, certin eligible tx filers with erned income nd qulifying child who is ged 19 through 23 nd full time student t lest 5 months of the yer cn clim lrger Erned Income Tx Credit (EITC). Plnning, Predicting, nd Applying for Assistnce To benefit from both Title IV id nd tx expenditures, students nd fmilies must nvigte mny uncertinties. Plnning for future college expenses. Sving for child s college eduction requires fmilies to mke complicted decisions bout the best strtegy to finnce child s future college eduction. For exmple, fmilies hve to mke decisions bout whether their child will go to 13 The tuition deduction expired December 31, 2011, nd s of My 10, 2012, hs not been extended. Tx legisltion cn influence this nd other tx expenditures by repeling or limiting tx expenditures, encting new ones, or extending the life of expiring tx expenditures. 14 The mount of tx relief per dollr tht txpyer receives using deduction depends on the txpyer s mrginl tx rte. Generlly, the higher the txpyer s mrginl tx rte, the greter the tx svings from these tx expenditure types. 15 Adjusted gross income is defined s gross income minus djustments to income. Pge 7 GAO Higher Eduction

14 college, the mount to sve, nd whether to use tx-preferred svings vehicle (nd if so, which one). In ddition, prents need to mke their best guesses bout the price of the school the child will ttend or whether the child will be dependent t the time he or she becomes college student. Predicting the mount nd time frmes of ssistnce. A key chllenge students nd fmilies fce is tht they must mke college ppliction decisions before knowing their eligibility for federl ssistnce, s illustrted in figure 1 below. For Title IV id, students receive eligibility informtion fter they pply for nd re ccepted to school, generlly in the spring of their senior yer in high school, but before they need to ccept n offer of dmission nd enroll in school. Students pplying to colleges nd their fmilies lso my not know for certin if they re eligible for one of the tx provisions or wht the mount of the tx benefit will be until they prepre nd file their tx returns well into the student s first yer in college. This mkes it difficult for fmilies to predict nd pln for the true cost of college prior to enrolling. Pge 8 GAO Higher Eduction

15 Interctive grphic Figure 1: Illustrtion of Plnning nd Pyment Processes for Higher Eduction Expenses Directions: Roll over time spns in the chrt below for more detils. Before college During college After college A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J Birth through senior yer of high school Ech cdemic yer Monthly Senior yer of high school August Fll through Spring Jnury through Mrch Mrch through April Jnury through Mrch Jnury through April 15th Jnury Jnury through April 15th Eligibility notifiction periods Sources: GAO (informtion); Digitl Vision (photo). Notes: This grphic provides one exmple of the timing for finncil id, tx, nd lon repyment decisions. The process my differ for nontrditionl students. For exmple, students tht ttend school less thn hlf time or t times other thn the fll through spring semesters my mke decisions nd pyments t times other thn those depicted in this illustrtion. Also, individuls other thn prents such s legl gurdins my be involved in finncil id nd tx decisions. FAFSA dedlines vry by stte, nd the Deprtment of Eduction Web site often directs students to contct their finncil id dministrtor for dedlines. Ech college within stte my lso hve different dedline. For , the federl dedline is June 30, Some eduction institutions my require FAFSA before fmilies hve filed tx return. Print instructions To print text version of this grphic, go to ppendix III. Pge 9 GAO Higher Eduction

16 In response to sttutory requirement designed to provide students nd fmilies better understnding of the net price of college, 16 higher eduction institutions hve posted net price clcultors on their Web sites. The clcultors use institutionl dt to provide estimted net price informtion to current nd prospective students nd their fmilies bsed on student s individul circumstnces. However, the net price clcultion includes considertion of grnt id but does not tke into ccount tx benefits student or fmily my receive. Applying for ssistnce. While Title IV id nd tx expenditures differ in who is responsible for obtining id, they both provide chllenges to fmilies in understnding nd pplying for ssistnce. With Title IV id, Eduction nd higher eduction institutions re responsible for determining id eligibility nd wrd mounts. While fmilies do not need to lern the eligibility rules for ech Title IV progrm, they hve to nswer numerous questions when pplying for id. Mny experts, both within nd outside of government, hve expressed concern bout the length nd complexity of the FAFSA, including the possibility tht the ppliction 17 process itself my discourge some students from pplying. With tx expenditures, the responsibility for selecting mong nd properly using them rests with tx filers, who fce mny chllenges in selecting the best choice from mong the numerous tx expenditures vilble for higher eduction. 16 The Higher Eduction Opportunity Act required ll institutions receiving Title IV funds to provide net price clcultors on their Web sites. Pub. L. No , 111, 122 Stt. 3078, 3098 (Aug. 14, 2008), codified t 20 U.S.C Schools were required to publish net price clcultor by October 29, See lso GAO, Federl Student Aid: Highlights of Study Group on Simplifying the Free Appliction for Federl Student Aid, GAO (Wshington, D.C.: Oct. 29, 2009) nd Susn Dynrski nd Mrk Wiederspn, Student Aid Simplifiction: Looking Bck nd Looking Ahed, NBER Working Pper No (Cmbridge, MA: Ntionl Bureu of Economic Reserch, 2012). In ddition, 2009 study found tht fmilies tht received informtion bout id nd ssistnce in completing the FAFSA were substntilly more likely to submit the id ppliction nd enroll in college; Eric Bettinger et. l, The Role of Simplifiction nd Informtion in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA Experiment, NBER Working Pper No (Cmbridge, MA: Ntionl Bureu of Economic Reserch, 2009). Pge 10 GAO Higher Eduction

17 Multiple Title IV Progrms nd Tx Expenditures Provided Substntil Aid cross Income Levels Title IV Aid nd Tx Expenditures Are Substntil nd Hve Generlly Incresed in Recent Yers Multiple Title IV progrms nd tx expenditures re vilble to help eligible students nd fmilies py for higher eduction. Figure 2 gives n overview of the number nd type of progrms included in this review, long with totl benefits nd recipients for ech progrm, the medin mount of ech wrd, nd the medin income of recipients. Pge 11 GAO Higher Eduction

18 Interctive grphic Figure 2: Size nd Chrcteristics of Title IV Aid Progrms nd Higher Eduction Tx Expenditures Directions: Roll over ech progrm beneth the dotted line of the flowchrt below to see the number of beneficiries, the totl dollrs of the benefit, the verge mount of ech benefit, nd the medin income of recipients. Key: Progrms used to py for current expenses Progrms used to sve for future expenses Progrms used to repy expenses Source: GAO nlysis of U.S. Deprtment of Eduction documents, school-yer NPSAS dt, IRS SOI dt for tx yer 2009, nd the 2007 Federl Reserve Survey of Consumer Finnce. Note: For estimtes of tx expenditures other thn QTPs nd ESAs, we report the tx benefit filer receives from climing the tx expenditure. All figures presented re smple estimtes nd re subject to smpling error. We re 95 percent confident tht in 2006, between 3.5 nd 4.9 million households held QTP or ESA; tht the medin ccount blnce ws between $7,500 nd $12,000; nd tht the medin gross income of households ws between $106,000 nd $138,000. Dt for QTPs nd ESAs re presented together becuse the public SCF dt file does not provide seprte estimtes for the two ccounts. Our estimtes for the number of filers climing n eduction tx benefit only include those filers tht reduced their tx libility by climing these expenditures. All other estimtes in this figure hve 95% confidence intervls tht re within +/- 10 percent of the estimte itself. Print instructions To print text version of this grphic, go to ppendix III. Pge 12 GAO Higher Eduction

19 Since 2006, the number of recipients nd the vlue of benefits provided through Title IV id nd tx expenditures hve generlly incresed, though the overll size of ech progrm differed. 18 The number of students receiving Title IV id incresed by 23 percent from , from 10.4 million to 12.8 million. The number of tx filers benefiting from n eduction tx expenditure ws lrger, nd incresed by 25 percent from 2006 to 2009, from 14.4 million to 18.0 million (see fig. 3). The totl number of Title IV nd tx recipients should not be dded together, s in some cses students nd fmilies my be eligible for benefits from both types of progrms. 18 In this nd following sections, we estimte the tx benefit tht tx filers receive when climing higher eduction-relted tx provision using SOI dt for tx yer Our estimtes only include those filers tht hve benefit fter climing other tx benefits. These estimtes re not equivlent to revenue loss estimtes presented previously in the bckground section of this report. For exmple, our SOI estimtes include the tx benefit filer receives from climing the EITC for student ges Revenue loss estimtes for this specific tx expenditure re not vilble in Anlyticl Perspectives, Budget of the U.S. Government. Also, revenue loss estimtes presented in the bckground section re for fiscl yer 2010, wheres our nlysis uses SOI dt for tx yer Pge 13 GAO Higher Eduction

20 Figure 3: Number of Recipients of Title IV Progrms nd Tx Expenditures Who Py for Current Expenses, Note: Title IV dt re presented by federl fiscl yer (October September) nd IRS dt re by tx yer (Jnury December). The number of Title IV id recipients my include students nd fmilies who lso filed for tx benefits s well, nd vice vers. Within Title IV nd tx expenditures, seprtely, the number of recipients is unduplicted. For exmple, fmily with two students climing AOC s for both students would be counted s one tx filer. For the number of recipients, Title IV progrms include grnts, work-study, nd lons within the scope of this review. These figures lso include progrms we did not review, including Acdemic Competitiveness Grnts, Ntionl Science & Mthemtics Access to Retin Student Tlent Grnts, nd Leverging Eductionl Assistnce Prtnership Grnts. Tx expenditures include the AOC, Hope credit, LLC, tuition deduction, EITC for students ges 19 23, nd the prentl exemption for dependent students ges Estimted number of recipients from IRS dt hve 95 percent confidence intervls tht re within 10 percent of the estimte itself. From 2006 to 2009, tx filers climed roughly comprble dollr mount of tx benefits s students received through Title IV grnts during these yers (see fig. 4). This nlysis focuses on Title IV grnts becuse they Pge 14 GAO Higher Eduction

21 re most comprble to tx expenditures. 19 The dollr vlue of both tx benefits nd grnts incresed from 2006 to Tx benefits incresed by bout 78 percent ($16.4 billion in 2006 to $29.2 billion in 2009) nd grnts by 97 percent ($15.5 billion in 2006 to $30.5 billion in 2009). 20 Figure 4: Amount of Benefits from Selected Title IV Progrms nd Tx Expenditures Tht Py for Current Expenses, Student lons nd work-study hve different terms, including repyment nd employment, which require different methods of estimting costs nd benefits. In contrst to Title IV grnts nd tx expenditures, the dollr vlue of student lons provided through Title IV decresed between fiscl yers 2006 nd The mount of lon ssistnce (fce vlue) through the Title IV progrms decresed by over $40 billion from $152.5 billion in 2006 to $110.4 billion in 2009, lthough borrowing limits incresed for Stfford nd Perkins lons during this time. 20 These figures re in constnt 2012 dollrs. Pge 15 GAO Higher Eduction

22 Note: Vlues re reported in 2012 constnt dollrs. Title IV dt re presented by federl fiscl yer (October September) nd IRS dt re by tx yer (Jnury December). For the Title IV benefits, only Pell Grnts nd Federl Supplementl Eductionl Opportunity Grnts re included. Tx expenditures include the AOC, Hope credit, LLC, tuition deduction, EITC for students ges 19 23, nd the prentl exemption for dependent students ges Dollr estimtes from IRS dt hve 95 percent confidence intervls tht re within 10 percent of the estimte itself. The shrp increse in benefits for both tx expenditures nd Title IV grnts from 2008 to 2009 my be due to increses in enrollment nd legisltive chnges, mong other fctors. The overll number of students enrolling in college incresed 11.9 percent from 2007 to 2009 from 18.2 million to 20.4 million. The most recent ntionl recession which lsted from December 2007 through June 2009 my hve led more individuls to enroll in college. Reserchers hve found tht s unemployment increses during recession, unemployed individuls my return to school to obtin dditionl skills, certifictions, or degrees. 21 In ddition to these fctors, legisltive chnges influenced the increse in benefits from 2008 to For exmple, for Title IV progrms, Congress incresed the mximum Pell Grnt wrd by 13 percent, from $4,731 in the school yer to $5,350 in the school yer. 22 During this period, the totl benefits provided through Pell Grnts incresed by pproximtely $10 billion. 23 For tx expenditures, legisltion in 2009 replced the Hope credit with the AOC. Compred to the Hope credit, the AOC is vilble to broder rnge of tx filers becuse it: is lrger (the mximum vilble credit incresed from $1,800 to $2,500); hs higher income phse-out limits; dds required course mterils to the definition of qulified eduction expenses; is vilble for the first 4 yers of higher eduction, insted of the first 2; nd 21 See Julin R. Betts nd Lurel L. McFrlnd, Sfe Port in Storm: The Impct of Lbor Mrket Conditions on Community College Enrollments, Journl of Humn Resources 30(4), Autumn 1995, ; Hrris Dells nd Vlly Koubi, Business Cycles nd Schooling, Europen Journl of Politicl Economy 19 (2003), ; nd Hrris Dells nd Plutrchos Skellris, On the Cycliclity of Schooling: Theory nd Evidence, Oxford Economic Ppers 55, Jnury 2003, The mximum Pell Grnt hs subsequently incresed to $5,550. See pp. II. 23 At the sme time, the number of Pell recipients incresed by 26 percent from 6.1 million in 2008 to 7.7 million in Pge 16 GAO Higher Eduction

23 is refundble up to 40 percent of the credit (up to $1,000 yer), llowing filers without income tx libility to receive benefit they would not get under the Hope credit, which ws not refundble. In 2008, before the legisltive chnge, pproximtely 7.7 million tx filers climed Hope credit or LLC, receiving $7.6 billion in benefits. 24 In 2009, fter the chnge, 12.5 million tx filers climed n AOC, LLC, or Hope credit, 25 receiving bout $18.7 billion in benefits. This increse more thn offset concurrent decrese in the number of tx filers climing the tuition deduction. From 2008 to 2009, the number of tx filers climing the tuition deduction decresed from bout 3.3 million to bout 1.7 million, nd the mount of benefits received decresed from bout $1.5 billion to bout $658 million (see fig. 5). 24 Dollr vlues in this prgrph re presented in 2012 constnt dollrs in ccordnce with the multiyer comprison in fig While the AOC replced the Hope credit for most filers in 2009, students ttending n eligible institution in Midwestern disster re were eligible for lrger Hope credit ($3,600 mximum) if they met eligibility requirements. Pge 17 GAO Higher Eduction

24 Figure 5: Tx Benefits Received by Tx Filers Climing the Tuition Deduction, Hope Credit, LLC, nd AOC, Note: Vlues re presented in 2012 constnt dollrs. We re 95 percent confident tht our estimte for the 2009 Hope credit is between bout $270 million nd $382 million. All other dollr estimtes hve 95 percent confidence intervls tht re within 10 percent of the estimte itself. Title IV nd Tx Expenditures Offer Assistnce to Students cross Income Levels Title IV Progrms Title IV grnts tend to benefit students nd fmilies 26 with incomes below the ntionl medin (which ws bout $52,000 from ), while 26 In the cse of dependent students, we refer to fmily income. Pge 18 GAO Higher Eduction

25 lons nd work-study benefit these students nd fmilies with incomes well bove the ntionl medin. The income distribution of students served by the two lrgest Title IV progrms the Pell Grnt nd Stfford lon progrms differs by dependency sttus becuse independent students generlly hve lower incomes nd less ccumulted svings thn dependent students nd their fmilies. 27 Funds from these progrms were generlly spred cross vrious income levels for dependent students, but concentrted t lower income levels for independent students, s shown in figure 6. For exmple, nerly 90 percent of subsidized Stfford funds for independent students went to the 91 percent of independent students with incomes $60,000 nd below. In contrst, bout 60 percent of subsidized Stfford funds for dependent students went to students nd fmilies with incomes $60,000 nd below Overll, more independent students received Title IV id thn dependent students in the school yer (12.8 million nd 10.5 million, respectively) nd independent students received more benefits thn dependent students ($52.4 billion nd $36.5 billion, respectively). Dollr figures in this section re not djusted for infltion. 28 A proportionl 60 percent of dependent students receiving subsidized Stfford funds were from fmilies with incomes $60,000 nd below. Pge 19 GAO Higher Eduction

26 Interctive grphic Figure 6: Number nd Percentge of Title IV Aid Recipients nd Dollrs Received, by Income Ctegory nd Dependency Sttus, Directions: Roll over ech progrm for more detils. Progrm Dependent students Independent students Dollrs received Shre of benefits Dollrs received Shre of benefits Pell grnt $708,298,173 $8,350,502 $0 $0 $2,993,296,755 45% $5,708,275,819 $2,962,215,274 44% 11% 0% 0% 0% $2,033,734,008 $220,020,619 $0 $0 $0 72% 26% 3% 0% 0% 0% Subsidized Stfford Lon $1,576,033,411 $2,600,677,516 $2,399,719,215 $1,777,159,779 $1,145,483,437 $1,268,645,799 15% 24% 22% 17% 11% 12% Dollrs received $5,143,430,349 $2,332,929,154 $1,065,865,463 $831,217,599 $0 $9,421,293,323 50% 27% 12% 6% 4% 0% Unsubsidized Stfford Lon $480,773,388 $706,246,969 $668,956,702 $863,722,923 $1,055,285,595 $2,539,426,756 8% 11% 11% 14% 17% 40% $4,980,847,097 $2,688,876,994 $1,531,454,768 $1,474,347,793 $702,578,936 $9,539,027,035 46% 24% 13% 7% 7% 3% PLUS Lon $306,178,690 $791,392,564 $1,069,231,412 $1,332,716,460 $1,434,575,441 $3,567,182,411 4% 9% 13% 16% 17% 42% Figure includes PLUS lons for prents of dependent students only. Grd PLUS lons for independent students re not in the scope of this review becuse they served under 500,000 students in Income $0-$20,000 $20,001-$40,000 $40,001-$60,000 $60,001-$80,000 $80,001-$100,000 Greter thn $100,000 Source: GAO nlysis of Eduction NPSAS dt. Note: Numbers my not dd due to rounding. See pp. III for confidence intervls. Pge 20 GAO Higher Eduction

27 The distribution of the three smll cmpus-bsed id progrms (FSEOG, Perkins, nd Federl Work-Study) hs some similrities nd differences with the lrger Title IV progrms. While the lrger Title IV progrms Pell Grnts, Stfford lons, nd PLUS lons distributed more funds to independent students, more cmpus-bsed id went to dependent students. 29 Like Pell Grnts, nd s intended, cmpus-bsed FSEOG primrily benefited students nd fmilies with incomes below the ntionl medin household income. 30 Like subsidized Stfford lons, the mjority of ll cmpus-bsed Perkins lon recipients with incomes $40,000 nd under received the mjority of funds from the progrm. See figure 7 for dditionl detil. 29 In , $4.3 billion of cmpus-bsed id ws distributed to dependent students compred with $2.1 billion for independent students. 30 The 91 percent of ll FSEOG recipients with incomes $40,000 nd under received nerly 90 percent of FSEOG funds. Pge 21 GAO Higher Eduction

28 Interctive grphic Figure 7: Number nd Percentge of Cmpus-Bsed Aid Recipients nd Dollrs Received, by Income Ctegory nd Dependency Sttus, Directions: Roll over ech progrm for more detils. Cmpus-Bsed Aid Progrms Dependent students Independent students Dollrs received Shre of benefits Dollrs received Shre of benefits FSEOG $209,167,876 40% $287,140,334 $229,314,569 44% $64,666,358 $74,901,541 14% $12,253,894 $5,224,562 1% $198,775 Cnnot provide estimte due to smple size. $0 $0 79% 18% 3% 0% 0% 0% Federl Perkins Lon $152,790,728 $259,282,922 $220,640,219 $118,530,334 $67,018,955 $95,266,510 17% 28% 24% 13% 7% 10% $95,943,420 $38,661,997 $7,690,437 $15,385,335 $0 $433,717,269 73% 16% 7% 1% 3% 0% Federl Work Study $349,134,109 $605,006,564 $535,082,448 $434,541,331 $342,452,892 $580,623,357 12% 21% 19% 15% 12% 20% $238,661,357 $97,670,405 $51,330,515 $21,051,799 $2,987,375 $707,382,578 63% 21% 9% 5% 2% 0% Income $0-$20,000 $20,001-$40,000 $40,001-$60,000 $60,001-$80,000 $80,001-$100,000 Greter thn $100,000 Source: GAO nlysis of Eduction NPSAS dt. Note: Numbers my not dd due to rounding. See pp. III for confidence intervls. Pge 22 GAO Higher Eduction

29 While FSEOG nd Perkins provide id in the form of grnts nd lons (respectively) for students with exceptionl finncil need, the Federl Work-Study progrm provides funding for the employment of students with ny finncil need. This difference in trgeted popultions is reflected in the distribution of work-study funds by income. For exmple, 36 percent of the funds went to the 36 percent of recipients from fmilies with incomes over $60,000. The shre of work-study funds distributed to students from fmilies with incomes over $100,000 grew significntly from the school yer to the school yer, from 9 percent to 15 percent. 31 Tx Expenditures Most tx benefits from the tuition nd fees deduction nd the prentl exemption for dependent students went to households with incomes bove $60,000, wheres the mjority of benefits for the other higher eduction tx expenditures in our review (e.g., student lon interest deduction, AOC, LLC, nd EITC) went to households with incomes below $60, Figure 8 summrizes the distribution of tx benefits to filers, by income. 31 Similrly, the shre of work-study recipients from fmilies with incomes over $100,000 grew from 8 percent in to 15 percent in Specificlly, 67 percent of tx benefits from the tuition nd fees deduction ($419.5 million) nd 75 percent of the exemption for dependent students ($4 billion) went to tx filers with incomes bove $60,000 in Pge 23 GAO Higher Eduction

30 Interctive grphic Figure 8: Number nd Percentge of Tx Filers Climing Higer Eduction Tx Expenditures nd Totl Benefits, by Income Ctegory, 2009 Directions: Roll over ech progrm for more detils. Progrm Progrm Tuition nd fees deduction Americn opportunity credit Totl benefits Shre of benefits Totl benefits Shre of benefits $23,237,000 $60,962,000 $125,127,000 $78,621,000 $55,363,000 4% 10% 20% 13% 9% $2,410,738,000 $285,550,000 45% $0 $3,415,061,000 $2,592,059,000 $2,228,655,000 $1,795,974,000 $3,526,694,000 15% 21% 16% 14% 11% 22% Student lon interest deduction Lifetime lerning credit $56,757,000 $271,208,000 $341,352,000 $204,966,000 $177,270,000 $282,212,000 4% 20% 26% 15% 13% 21% $177,536,000 $717,486,000 $573,645,000 $453,702,000 $375,959,000 $113,646,000 7% 30% 24% 19% 16% 5% Prentl exemption for students ges Erned Income Tx Credit for students ges $49,874,000 $615,251,000 $669,819,000 $675,441,000 $662,782,000 $2,664,082,000 1% 12% 13% 13% 12% 50% 2,012,304,000 1,271,618,000 Cnnot provide estimte due to smple size $0 $0 $0 61% 39% 0% 0% 0% 0% Income $0-$20,000 $20,001-$40,000 $40,001-$60,000 $60,001-$80,000 $80,001-$100,000 Greter thn $100,000 Source: GAO nlysis of IRS SOI dt. Note: Numbers my not dd due to rounding. See pp. III for confidence intervls. Our estimtes for the percentge of filers climing the intuition nd fees deduction nd the student lon interest deduction only include those filers tht reduced their tx libility by climing these deductions. Pge 24 GAO Higher Eduction

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