Fewer than half of high school seniors submitted a Free Application for Federal Student Aid compared to this time last year, which may be understandable to some considering the U.S. Department of Education had a rough launch with its newly updated form resulting in a nearly three-month delay coupled with several technological issues for applicants.
That’s according to the latest available data from the National College Attainment Network, which tracks the changes in FAFSA submission rates year-over-year. By late January, more than 676,000 seniors completed a FAFSA, nearly a 57% drop compared to last year’s numbers.
Behind the headaches
The new FAFSA forms, which were meant to allow for a simpler application process for students and families, have left parents anxious over whether their children will receive the financial aid they need ahead of the fall semester. Colleges and universities aren’t expected to receive batches of students’ financial aid information until sometime in mid-March due to a series of hiccups with financial aid processing. The most recent was the Department’s failure to adjust families’ protected income due to inflation.
As a result, families are stressed out and worried that their children will miss scholarship deadlines.
“Our daughter has already been accepted to college and we are now in the process of starting the financial assistance forms required by many schools to complete the application process—albeit we have not gotten past the first step of signing in,” one mother told The Hill.
Some colleges, including the University of California and California State University, announced this week they’d be extending the May 1 deadline for students to accept their acceptance offers for the fall semester because of delays caused by the new FAFSA form, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said these hiccups are putting significant stress on the district’s families, given that roughly 80% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
“We have such a disproportionate number of students who absolutely depend on this type of financial assistance for college support,” he told The Los Angeles Times. “This really has created a bottleneck and a significant reduction in the number of FAFSA submissions— by as much as 50%. And if very specific actions are not taken quickly, that issue may not be remediated.”
The Department of Education also announced that it would soon send dozens of experts to underresourced colleges and universities with plans to distribute a $50 million donation to educational nonprofits for technical assistance and support, USA Today reports.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said on a call with reporters on Monday that the delays upset him, too. He stated that the new form is more simplified than ever, ensuring a smooth application process for students and families.
“We’ve been asked to deliver more with less,” he explained, “as Congress continues to flat-fund federal student aid despite the transformational work we’re doing.”
Foundations dependent on FAFSA processing to dispense their own scholarships worry that, despite the Department’s efforts to step in, many students will forgo college this year due to the delays.
“I worry about the people who are so confused, so disillusioned and feel so betrayed by this process that they decide not to make the next move,” said Faith Sandler, executive director of the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, according to The Washington Post.