Federal Student Aid’s announcement on the deferral of the FAFSA form from October to December will create a cluster of issues for students, parents and financial aid officers this academic year. However, one university isn’t interested in working off a schedule.
Assumption University, a Massachusetts private university, plans to dodge the headache of the new FAFSA implementation with its own form that it promises to provide applicants as early as next week. With cost and scholarship availability being one of the biggest influences on applicants’ decision to enroll, William Boffi, Assumption’s vice president of enrollment management, believes being able to provide them with this vital information as early as possible will help alleviate their compressed application window.
“Early is better,” he says. “If they can get their financial information in October and November, that seems better to us than in February and March.”
While the FAFSA Simplification Act will ensure that students and parents will have an easier time applying for financial aid in the future, its implementation this fall is far from simple. This year’s December launch means students and parents will most likely not be able to see how much financial aid they are eligible for until February in some cases, and the deferred FAFSA availability will bottleneck applications, putting more pressure on financial aid officers.
“FAFSA Simplification is going to make this the most complicated year we have seen perhaps ever,” says Maureen Anderson, a financial aid consultant for Financial Aid Services and a former director of financial aid at Santa Fe College (Fla.). “The 2023-24 academic year is the most daunting and complicated year for all that is coming in 24-25.”
Boffi believes that streamlining applicants’ access to their financial aid package may win over students who’ve had time to process what Assumption has to offer and win their confidence. Informing students their true discounted tuition separate from Assumption’s sticker price as early as possible is vital in a time when many students and parents today heavily prioritize weighing cost as a factor on where to enroll.
“This is a complicated decision that families face,” he says. “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.”
But there is a level of risk involved. The questionnaire primarily concerns four key factors: students’ and parents’ income and assets. It’s not as involved as the FAFSA, and its “blunt” approach runs the risk of having discrepancies with FAFSA’s calculations once students gain access to it in December. Additionally, a degree of trust is involved with applicants answering Assumption’s questionnaire faithfully.
“The thing we’re concerned about is students and families fill out our form and don’t put accurate information, and when they fill out the FAFSA, the two sets of information, if they are very different, that’s going to put us in a difficult situation,” he says.
Nonetheless, the questionnaire only serves as a proxy until the FAFSA form is available. Students’ original aid provided by Assumption will be compared to the FAFSA’s calculations, and any significant discrepancies between the two will be revised. But Boffi doesn’t think that’s going to be the case. The newly released Student Aid Index (which replaces the now-defunct estimated family contribution section of the FAFSA) has boosted Boffi’s confidence that their calculations will be on target.
The biggest concern for the university’s strategy team when creating this questionnaire was dolling out more aid than the FAFSA advised. And while the Student Aid Index has reassured Boffi on their calculations, they always deemed the risk involved worth it.
“If we lost a little precision with a neat calculation, that’s offset by doing what’s right and what’s best for families,” he says.