March 26, 2024

FAFSA glitches leave students, colleges without crucial financial information

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Students hoping to attend colleges and universities across the state are still waiting on financial aid packages after a new FAFSA form caused confusion. - File Photo: Steve Burns / WTIU

Students hoping to attend colleges and universities across the state are still waiting on financial aid packages after a new FAFSA form caused confusion.

File Photo: Steve Burns / WTIU

Students and colleges are facing unprecedented delays with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

Problems with the rollout of a new form has prevented many colleges from offering financial aid packages and left students confused about how much aid they’re eligible to receive as important deadlines roll by.

The FAFSA normally opens in October, but students could not begin to fill it out until January this year. The new form was supposed to simplify the process, but glitches have resulted in some students and their families not being able to complete it.

Many who were able to fill out the form are unable to make adjustments after submitting it, and some received incorrect financial aid estimates.

Bill Wozniak, the vice president of communications and student services at INvestED, encouraged students and their families not to give up.

“There's too much financial aid of all types on the line to skip it altogether,” he said. “Just a little bit more patience, and we'll help anybody get across that finish line. But it's too important to not do.”

READ MORE: Ball State: Delayed rollout of simplified FAFSA creating more delays for accepted college students

Wozniak said the problems are not any individual student or family’s fault, and anyone struggling with the FAFSA is not alone. He added that colleges, universities and organizations like INvestED are all happy to talk to students and family members who still have questions.

“This form is the gateway to all financial aid. They have to get it done,” Wozniak said. “And everyone is working together both at the national level, and at the state level, and at the colleges, because they know it's not the fault of the student or the families.”

Colleges and universities also rely on the FAFSA to determine financial aid packages for students. Without reliable information, many colleges have faced setbacks and delays in determining those amounts.

“They understand that the family has done nothing wrong,” Wozniak said. “The information just hasn't come in yet.”

Many colleges and universities only recently received the correct financial information for students who were able to finish the form earlier this year. Mary Beth Petrie is the vice president for enrollment management at DePauw University.

“Even families that have not had challenges still don’t have financial aid awards from colleges because we only just received the data on the college side,” Petrie said. “It’s going to take a little bit of time now to work through the issues that we’re seeing in the data on the college side.”

Petrie said it may still be a few weeks until most colleges begin to release financial aid packages.

Many schools are pushing back decision deadlines and working with students. For example, DePauw is using a separate application, the CSS Profile, to provide financial aid estimates to prospective students. Some colleges and scholarship programs already use the CSS Profile to determine non-federal financial aid.

“It is something that we feel pretty confident in, so confident that a lot of our families feel like that is enough information for them to make an enrollment decision,” Petrie said.
 

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DePauw also moved its decision deadline from May 1 to May 15, but Petrie said the university could allow further extensions for families who need more time to decide. Many other colleges and universities throughout the state are taking similar measures.

Petrie said those struggling with the FAFSA do not have to go through the process alone. She encouraged them to keep going, even though it’s frustrating.

“In the end, it will be worth it for them,” she said. “Getting to the right college, getting the right experience is usually what makes the difference in a student graduating from college and having a successful life and career afterwards. It’ll be worth the extra few weeks and worth the extra time and energy.”

Kirsten is Indiana Public Broadcasting's education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.

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