Colleges and universities’ admissions and enrollment teams were already preparing for one of the most complicated years in financial aid history with the release of FAFSA Simplification. Aside from its revamped methodology, they have also been preparing for its release sometime in December.
Now, another hurdle has arisen: The new FAFSA will not be released until the last possible day of the year, Dec. 31, nearly three months deferred from its usual date.
With the flurry of higher ed staff processing and packaging aid offers, reviewing financial aid appeals and counseling students on the changes, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is asking the Department of Education to work closely with financial aid offices to protect underresourced students from the lightning-quick turnaround.
“In addition to working as quickly as possible to deliver a completed FAFSA process, the Department can partner in this effort by giving students realistic timelines and top-notch customer service, and giving schools the space and resources they need to focus solely on students for the next several months,” wrote NASFAA in a statement.
While the promise of FAFSA Simplification lies in its ability to quicken the process to just 10 minutes, Anthony Jones, vice president of enrollment management and student experience at Bethune-Cookman University, an HBCU in Florida in which 80% of students are Pell eligible, wouldn’t consider himself happy with the changes.
Changes to FAFSA’s methodology, especially on such a quick turnaround, may have more adverse effects on students of color, complicating or potentially eliminating their eligibility, Jones says. Specifically, the new FAFSA’s updated guidelines on families who receive child support and contain multiple siblings can hurt students’ amount of federal aid received.
“Both of these scenarios could have adverse impacts on students of color, especially as these families receive a disproportionate amount of child support that will no longer be accounted as income, but as assets; and could have a higher percentage of children in relatively close proximity in age and therefore enrolled simultaneously,” Jones said in an email.
He anticipates that financial aid offices’ ability to make a professional judgment will be more important than ever when considering students of color coming from these backgrounds. Despite these challenges, he’s still hopeful in FAFSA’s long-term benefits.
“Thankfully, no institution is spared from the changes in FAFSA timing this year,” he said. “This means in the minds of prospective students no particular school has a unique edge.”
However, one university’s decision to roll out its own financial aid forms is looking all the wiser now. Assumption University, a Massachusetts private university, implemented its own form in October, dodging the headaches most institutions are currently dealing with.
“This is a complicated decision that families face,” said William Boffi, vice president of enrollment management. “We feel like if we can give them something that shows that we’re going to give them a generous aid offer early, we have a better chance to make their shortlist.”