FAFSA Delays Could Mean Fewer Kids Apply to College

By: Nancy Bilyeau · April 03, 2024 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

Fewer prospective students have filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms this year, as the government’s spate of delays in overhauling the form is beginning to have serious consequences.

High school seniors had submitted 42% fewer FAFSAs to the government by March 2024 than they had by that time the previous year, according to the National College Attainment Network .

Last year, the government revamped the FAFSA system in an attempt to streamline applications, an initiative mandated by Congress. Instead of being able to access FAFSA applications in October, students didn’t get them until the end of December 2023. Glitches and problems followed, some of which prevented students from being able to submit their forms.

Will Enrollment Drop?

The shortfall fuels fears that colleges could see a significant drop in enrollment for the 2024/25 academic year.

Some estimates are as sizable as 2.8 million fewer enrollments, which would be a 19% decrease in applications this year because students and their families are being deterred by FAFSA confusion.

And there are new problems, too. FAFSA relies on information from the Internal Revenue Service to help determine how much financial aid a student is entitled to. But on April 1, Federal Student Aid released a statement acknowledging that the agency was “aware of reports concerning inconsistent tax data provided by the IRS for 2024-25 FAFSA applications.”

This means at least 5% of the FAFSAs received so far will “need to be reprocessed because the errors would result in decreased financial aid eligibility for students if unresolved,” according to the statement.

College Commitment Deadlines Nudged Further

At the least, the FAFSA problems are slowing down college admittance. According to the DOE’s last tally, from March 15, 2024, a total of 5.8 million FAFSAs have been submitted, down 30% from the same time last year.

When the DOE announced in January that it would not begin sending out processed student aid forms until mid-March, more than 140 schools pushed back the traditional May 1 commitment deadlines to mid-May or early June.

This week, after the DOE’s announcement of new IRS difficulties, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill pushing back the state schools’ deadline another month, while the University of Utah said it will extend its enrollment deposit deadline to June 3 for incoming freshmen and transfer students.

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