FAFSA Problems Causing Domino Effect of Delays for Students

By: Nancy Bilyeau · February 29, 2024 · Reading Time: 4 minutes

More than 100 colleges and universities have pushed back their deadline for new-student commitments because of the knock-on effects caused by the U.S. Department of Education’s overhaul of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The revamping of the financial-aid form used for new and returning students has run into multiple glitches and delays.

Since the amount that a student will need to draw from savings and borrow from a lender to pay tuition usually depends on learning how much federal financial aid that FAFSA first approves, the troubled rollout is causing a cascade of admission delays and stress.

Historically, May 1 has been the day universities expected commitments from new students if they wanted their spots saved. But this year, the deadlines are being pushed out. University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, the California State University system, Ohio State, Purdue University, Kent State, Penn State, and many state colleges in New York, Oregon, Minnesota, Illinois, and New Jersey are among the schools extending the decision deadline.

“We hope this change in our reply deadline will relieve at least some of the anxiety students and their loved ones may be feeling,” said Greg Roberts, dean of admission at University of Virginia, in a public statement .

Criticism Grows Louder

According to the longtime ritual of college admissions, students filled out their FAFSA forms shortly after they became available on October 1. But last year, the FAFSA form wasn’t even released to the public until the end of December because of the revamping to make the form simpler and more equitable.

Critics say the confusion over financial aid for the 2024-2025 academic year could be worse for lower-income students trying to navigate the federal financial aid system for the first time.

After a number of glitches were reported, the Department of Education (DOE) in January announced a delay in sending completed FAFSA applications to students’ colleges of choice. Most colleges won’t receive any data on student applications’ financial aid until March, which translates into a shortened period of time to decide on and notify applicants.

In early February, U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, announced that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) had begun an investigation into the “incompetent mishandling” of FAFSA.

“Many students will likely forgo college because they do not know if they can afford it,” said Senator Cassidy.

Good News for Pell Grants and Grandparents

The FAFSA update itself, however, has its good parts. The new form is expected to result in more students eligible to access Pell Grants, per Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. More than 7 million students in total are expected to be eligible for Pell Grants in the 2024–2025 award year, according to DOE.

Pells are given to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need. Cardona said that “610,000 students from low-income families will become eligible for Pell Grants for the very first time” because of improvements made to FAFSA.

Extended family support may also become easier in the new system. The overhauled FAFSA eliminates questions about grandparent contributions, effectively allowing grandparents to contribute to a grandchild’s college education without impacting their financial aid eligibility.

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