Fuel to the fire: FAFSA complications cause further delays

The Department is recuperating from failing to adjust families' amount of protected income to account for inflation that's been rising since April 2020—despite suggestions by Congress and other related agencies since October.

Students and parents anxiously submitting a delayed FAFSA Simplification Form were met with a glitchy, crash-prone website in the soft launch period. Federal Student Aid tried to soothe users’ nerves by explaining that form processing wouldn’t begin until the end of January and that they had time to submit.

Yet another announcement from the Department of Education guarantees students almost all the time in the world.

Colleges and universities have now been told they will no longer receive students’ FAFSA forms at the end of January. Instead, they should expect them some time “in the first half of March,” wrote the Education Department. Financial aid officers’ ability to process FAFSA forms is the only way for prospective students and their parents to know what kind of federal aid they can expect from a specific school. These delays further complicate a time-sensitive process for college applicants nationwide.

In the original window before FAFSA Simplification, students began processing forms in October. Colleges and universities soon received batches of FAFSA information (known as the Institutional Student Information Record or ISIR) soon after. After a series of hiccups this financial aid cycle, institutions will be forced to wait four to five months longer to assist financially needy students.

NASFAA President Justin Draeger expressed concern about how abruptly this information was communicated “[o]n the very day schools were expecting FAFSA applicant information.”

“These continued delays, communicated at the last minute, threaten to harm the very students and families that federal student aid is intended to help,” he said in a statement.

While the Department touted that over 3.1 million students have already processed the form, Draeger pointed out a running list of user problems restricting its availability. For example, there are bugs for students in special family circumstances and those trying to reenter their applications to correct an error.

“Financial aid administrators are anxious to receive data as soon as possible, but also want the corrected and final data delivered,” said Gail Holt, dean of financial at Amherst College, according to Yahoo Finance.

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What caused this delay?

The Department is recuperating from failing to adjust families’ amount of protected income to account for inflation that’s been rising since April 2020—despite suggestions by Congress and other related agencies since October. If no action had been taken, millions of students would have been considered to have more resources and would thus have lost out on aid.

The Student Aid Index (SAI) calculation, a new feature of the FAFSA form replacing the Expected Family Contribution formula, has since been updated. As a result, approximately $1.8 billion in aid will now be available to students.

While students will have access to more aid and have a longer window to submit their applications, financial aid officers will need to work even faster to ensure the neediest students have enough time to make a fiscally responsible decision on where to go to college.

“With this last-minute news, our nation’s colleges are once again left scrambling as they determine how best to work within these new timelines to issue aid offers as soon as possible—so the students who can least afford higher education aren’t the ones who ultimately pay the price for these missteps.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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