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FAFSA delays: When will students finally get financial aid?

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR)— Students, families, colleges, and universities across the country are still in limbo after a botched rollout of the Department of Education’s new FAFSA form.

“Today, six months behind our regular schedule, we’ve received only about 60% of the records we normally would at this time of year,” Rachelle Feldman, Vice Provost of Enrollment at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, said.

On Wednesday, lawmakers on Capitol Hill heard from experts about what some are calling a “disaster” less than a month before the typical May 1 decision deadline.

“We have yet to release a single aid offer despite having released our admissions decisions,” Feldman said.

Feldman testified that her office has found some workarounds that she is hopeful could allow UNC Chapel Hill to produce aid offers in a couple of weeks, but other universities might not be as fortunate.

The Department of Education issued an electronic announcement this week that it will start reprocessing data errors and sending them to schools by May 1. It usually takes colleges at least two weeks to generate financial aid offers, meaning many students will not have any answers about aid before the typical decision deadline.

“I’ve been recommending to colleges that they delay until June 1,” Mark Kantrowitz, president of scholarship and financial aid consulting firm Cerebly, said.

Many colleges, but not all, have already delayed their deadlines. The timeline of when students could hear back on financial aid will likely vary from school to school. Prospective students can check with universities’ financial aid offices to see if schools have extended deadlines, or have released any updates on when students could hear about receiving aid packages.

“Schools have all the FAFSA information they need from the Department of Education, but the Department estimates that 20% of the files that schools have are riddled with errors. And another 20% of the files on top of that, on average, don’t have the numbers that the financial aid offices need to actually calculate any awards,” Justin Draeger, CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said.

The FAFSA form is usually available in October, but it didn’t become accessible until December 2023. In a normal year, colleges would receive applicant data not long after the October deadline.

However, it wasn’t until March 10, that the Education Department announced it had started sending out student records to a few dozen universities and that it was making some final updates before expanding to more schools.

Lawmakers and experts seemed to agree that low-income students would be the ones who are hit the hardest by all the delays.

“Our immediate priority must be ensuring students, and their families have the necessary resources to make informed decisions about their future,” Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) said.

In a statement to Nexstar, a spokesperson with the Department of Education said, “The Department will continue to work tirelessly to ensure schools have the support they need to process student records and prepare aid packages quickly, and ensure students have access to the maximum financial aid available to allow them to pursue their higher education goals.”

In 2020, Congress ordered an update to the FAFSA form to simplify it and expand federal aid to more low-income students. FAFSA information is used to award state and federal education grants.

The Government Accountability Office has launched an investigation into the rollout of the new application.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source: Fox 8 News Channel

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