Department of Education works to fix FAFSA application problems as college deadlines loom

Michael Perchick Image
Thursday, May 9, 2024
Government works to fix FAFSA application problems
Department of Education vowed to provide up to $50 million to support efforts to "decrease barriers and increase FAFSA submissions."

WASHINGTON (WTVD) -- This week, the Department of Education announced it will provide up to $50 million to support organizations with experience in "expanding college access and enrollment," as they work to "decrease barriers and increase FAFSA submissions."

The funding comes as college seniors have reported delays and challenges in completing the forms, creating a time crunch in making decisions about higher education.

"Many of these students simply cannot go to the four-year colleges they are considering without this financial aid," said Alyse Levine, Founder and CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling.

Her team works with 200 students across the country each year, and explained the lack of information regarding financial aid offers has put some students in limbo.

"It's having a significant impact on students, delaying going to college at all, choosing to go to a community college instead of a four-year college even though they were really on a path to four-year college. Perhaps choosing a public state option that's not as good a fit or not as good a school for them for whatever reason because they simply don't know what they'll be able to afford with other options," said Levine.

The new FAFSA forms were intended to streamline the process, but the initial rollout has been rocky, with technical glitches creating complications.

"Many people could not submit at all for something as small as like an extra space put in after a name or a Social Security number," said Levine.

"I had a student who started their FAFSA February 26, and they were (finally) able to submit it yesterday," added Elizabeth Herrera, the Co-Founder of Casa Azul de Wilson, a non-profit which is assisting students in completing the forms.

According to the National College Attainment Network, as of the end of April, 39,109 high school seniors in North Carolina had completed their FAFSA forms. Last year, that figure topped 51,000.

"I have students who still haven't received financial aid packages from certain schools," said Herrera.

Nationally, the drop off has been similarly significant. While just 35.6% of high school seniors have completed their FAFSA forms through April 26th; that figure was 48.2% last year.

"I just really hope that people in power and people in these systems realize that when there is going to be change, we do have to be proactive about all the obstacles that may come with the change and being proactive of thinking about all groups and how it can affect them," said Herrera.

In response to the headwinds, some universities, including UNC, NC State and North Carolina A&T, pushed back their enrollment deadline from May 1 to May 15.

""We have been on the horn with financial aid offices directly, asking them to give grace to these students and these families," said Levine.

In a statement, a University of North Carolina spokesperson told ABC 11:

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill began making financial aid offers to incoming students with completed aid applications on April 22. Last week, the University invited students who have not yet responded to their admissions offer and have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to schedule an appointment with the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid through a form on its online portal if they have financial aid questions.

In a statement via a university spokesperson, Krista Ringler, the Financial Aid Director for NC State told ABC 11:

NC State began sending financial aid offers to newly admitted students in early April. While a significant number of records from the U.S. Department of Education needed additional processing, the majority of updates have now been received. To date, the volume of financial aid offers NC State has extended to newly admitted students is similar to prior academic years.