Going Beyond the EFC: Compliantly Prioritizing Students with Exceptional Need

While the guidance from HEERF III is clear victory for students, institutions now face a daunting burden.

In the recent HEERF III guidance,  the Department of Education (ED) showed a commitment to ensuring all students who are in need of financial assistance have access to it through the vehicle of emergency aid.  While the guidance is a clear victory for students, it has put considerable pressure on institutions to understand how to identify and prioritize students with exceptional need. 

According to the Department of Education, 1 in 5 Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) has previously targeted students based on Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data and Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) to overcome this administrative burden and create an easy mechanism to process emergency aid. However, with ED opening up eligibility criteria and explicitly pushing institutions to consider all students, it’s clear that the urge to use FAFSA data or EFC as a proxy for exceptional need now puts institutions at risk for being out of compliance. 

At Edquity, we celebrate the Department’s move as we have seen the toll the pandemic has taken on the lives of the students we serve on behalf of our college and community partners. We know using FAFSA data doesn’t account for the radical life changes many students have experienced during the pandemic and often misses students, like undocumented students, DACA students, or other marginalized students who struggle to complete the FAFSA, who are truly facing a challenge that a small infusion of cash at the right time could help them resolve. The reliance on EFC information also doesn’t reflect the student’s current reality and doesn’t capture hardships brought on by the pandemic.

To best understand the evolving nature of students' basic needs insecurity, a scoring rubric methodology supported by evidence-based research allows our partners to assess the depth of a students need in real time. We’ve helped our partners understand the unique challenges students are facing across six dimensions: housing, transportation, food, childcare, learning resources, health & safety. The depth of student challenges reassures federal compliance by mapping emergency aid applications into three tiers:

In assessing students’ hardships in this way, Edquity’s methodology allows institutions to consider all students and prioritize exceptional need in a consistent and scalable manner that allows for decision making in as little as 24 hours, offering a compliant, equitable, and effective approach to administering emergency aid.  

With such a historic opportunity to support student persistence, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to get this right. Ensure your institution is compliant and has a proven methodology in place to understand how to reach and assess your most vulnerable students.


For those interested in these learnings and other educational insights, please subscribe to our newsletter, Emergency Aid Today. For those interested in working with Edquity, please reach out at inquiries@edquity.co.

Are you an administrator? Get in touch with us at inquiries@edquity.co to learn more about how you can bring equitable emergency aid to your institution today.

Are you a student? Contact support@edquity.co or click the blue bubble in the bottom-right corner of edquity.co for assistance.

Written by
Edquity Team

Subscribe to the Edquity Newsletter

More Emergency Aid Articles