FAFSA Glitches Leave Students Worried

FAFSA application | Image by Richard Stephen/Getty Images

Delays and glitches in implementing the overhaul of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid have left millions of students worried about whether they can attend college this fall.

Alexandra Aranda, a Texas A&M student about to embark on her sophomore year, said she hopes to become an FBI agent someday. She is among the many students whose future is uncertain due to the ongoing FAFSA issues.

“Sometimes, I feel really sad because if I can’t get that done, you know, I’ve worked so hard just to get there. And then to have to come back? … We can’t afford it,” Aranda told The Dallas Morning News.

Aranda initially faced another hurdle. This year’s FAFSA application required that parents submit their Social Security numbers. Her parents are unlawful migrants, so they could not complete the application.

The Department of Education announced in February, however, a temporary workaround to accommodate families of unlawful migrants, allowing submission without a parent signature for students whose parents are not U.S. citizens and, therefore, do not have Social Security numbers, as reported by The Dallas Express.

Brizeida Lopez, a University of North Texas sophomore born and raised in Richardson, is another student dealing with uncertainty. She submitted an incomplete form with the intention of updating her parental information later.

“All of January, all my mom did was call and call and call,” Lopez said, per DMN. “And she was on the phone waiting for more than two hours.”

After facing months of difficulty in getting her mother’s identity verified, Lopez must now wait for her application to be processed before her mother can submit her portion of the application.

“I was getting nervous. I was so anxious that her identity probably was going to take forever to get verified,” Lopez said, per DMN. “So I was like, ‘OK, you know what, I’m gonna just do it just so they can at least have something that I submitted.’”

She still has not received a response and checks daily for updates.

The issues with FAFSA are widespread, despite federal officials referring to the new design as “simplified, redesigned, and streamlined … with most students and families completing it in less than 15 minutes.”

As previously covered by The Dallas Express, the new FAFSA application was launched in December, with the Department of Education touting a revamped process that would give students more grant opportunities. However, unforced calculation errors in the form have rendered a slew of submitted forms unusable, with the latest errors affecting approximately 200,000 forms last week.

The scale of the FAFSA issues is staggering. This year, fewer than 6 million students have managed to submit their FAFSA form, a massive 66% drop from the 17.5 million who did so last year, according to DMN.

Many colleges and universities have already pushed back the dates by which they must receive students’ financial aid information. Texas A&M, for instance, has postponed its deadline to April 15, while the University of Texas at Dallas has moved its deadline to May 1.

“Schools can only work with valid and correct data that is provided to them from the U.S. Department of Education,” explained Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, per Inside Higher Ed. “It is not feasible or realistic to send out incorrect FAFSA data and ask thousands of schools to make real-time calculations and adjustments to the federal formula on the school side.”

“At this stage in the game and after so many delays, every error adds up and will be felt acutely by every student who is counting on need-based financial aid to make their postsecondary dreams a reality,” he added.

In response to the issues with FAFSA, Universities such as Dartmouth and Vanderbilt will be expanding financial aid awards as a strategy to combat the problem, according to CNBC.

“As costs continue to escalate, we think it’s so important there is access,” said Doug Christiansen, Vanderbilt’s dean of admissions and financial aid, per CNBC.

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