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“Stay out of School, Kids:” Issues with the New FAFSA Impact Student Futures

Picture this: you are a hardworking high school student who has done everything possible to get into college. You have kept a 4.0 GPA, joined and led several on-campus organizations and managed to obtain some small scholarships. However, you cannot afford to attend college after high school just yet because your financial aid money has been delayed. This problem is not because of you; rather, it’s an issue with the FAFSA and the U.S. Education department. 

The FAFSA, or the free application for federal student aid, has long been a life changing tool for many families in the U.S. Ordinarily, attempting to streamline a system known to be fraught with difficulties is a good thing — the old version of the FAFSA had been criticized for being too long and complicated for many families to understand. The new, streamlined FAFSA promised to cut the number of questions in half, reduce the amount of qualifications needed for the Pell Grant scholarship, remove the reporting of untaxed income and work with the IRS to get extra information instead of just having the family report it. However, these promises were quickly overshadowed by departmental incompetence. 

The troubles with the FAFSA redesign started early. While the FAFSA is usually available in October, the Department of Education somehow managed to delay the release of the FAFSA until January. According to the Star Tribune, “When the form opened, some students and families experienced glitches. Early versions didn’t account for inflation.” Due to the lack of information, students were unable to financially plan out whether or not they would be able to afford a college education. 

“The delay is not impacting the amount of financial aid students will receive,” Amy Schlup, the Director of Financial Services, said. “It is only delaying our office in packaging and informing students of the aid offered.” 

The delay has discouraged many people from thinking about their future spendings on a collegiate education, resulting in a 28.8% drop of FAFSA applications from last academic year. However, the problems don’t stop there. 

More FAFSA incompetency came to light this week. According to an article by USA Today, “On Monday, the agency revealed it botched another set of applications, shortchanging hundreds of thousands of students on financial aid. Officials promised they would reprocess those applications by mid-April, practically guaranteeing more delays for some.” This mishap means colleges cannot get the information they need to make decisions regarding financial aid, causing students and faculty alike to lose faith in the integrity of the U.S. Department of Education. 

“Although we are working diligently to get offer letters out in a timely manner, we are at the mercy of the Department of Education and how quickly they are able to release ISIRs (Institutional Student Information Record) to us. These records are used to determine aid eligibility,” Schlup said.

Justin Draeger, president of NASFAA (The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators) remarked, “The rollout of the new FAFSA has been plagued by issues of broken trust, data integrity, and missed deadlines.” Trust in both departmental care for the issue and competency for dealing with it is waning. 

While the FAFSA problems will inevitably be fixed, there is no way to tell how many high school students will decide not to go to college due to these issues with the FAFSA — potentially nipping bright futures in the bud. It is hard not to observe the irony: the system intended to encourage college enrollment is discouraging people from attending college at all. The Department of Education faces a tough road ahead in earning back the trust of the nation, and hopefully, through positive actions, it will earn back the trust of the young people it has sworn to help.

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