June 20, 2024

The waiting game: U.S. Department of Education working on amending FAFSA delays affecting university careers and admissions

Federal Student Aid believes by July 1, 2024 the FAFSA award year will start covering university attendance.

Photo by Megan Martinez

Delayed financial aid packages for prospective students are raising concerns and confusion about what university to pick or if higher education is even an option for prospective students. 

At the moment, students, admissions and financial aid offices are waiting for the U.S. Department of Education to process the 6 million current applications and fix the bugs in the new form, which haven’t allowed the other millions of students to submit the form. 

The Federal Student Aid (FSA) office has been sending updates almost everyday through “Electronic Announcements,” acknowledging the pressing concerns from students and universities, as well as reporting their efforts to correct them. The most recent self-imposed deadline was an estimated “first half of March” to fix the issue of the contributors who don’t have a social security number (SSN). 

One of the changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) was inputting an SSN when creating an FSA ID in order to automatically access the IRS database and upload tax information. However, those without an SSN haven’t been able to create a FSA ID even when there is the option, “I don’t have an SSN.”  They received an error message, “Must input SSN.” Even with an existing FSA ID, the undocumented contributor must input the date of citizenship to move onto signing the form, then allowing it to be submitted. 

The update from March 12, 2024 said, “We have made technical updates that enable students with contributors without an SSN to now successfully submit the form. Some students in this scenario may still be encountering trouble submitting the form.” 

To make an FSA ID without an SSN will require an identification verification process with certain questions. If the questions aren’t presented, applicants will need to manually email identification documents and a signed “Attestation & Validation form” to an email address attached in the “Verify Your Identity” email. 

Although, some applicants are still experiencing difficulties such as signature glitches—FSA is trying to fix this—and must keep waiting for FSA to complete the verification and even await the resolution.

“Once a permanent fix is identified and implemented, the Department will attempt to retrieve federal tax information via the direct data exchange with the IRS and will reprocess the FAFSA, as necessary, to reflect any changes.” FSA said, “There is currently no estimated timeline for resolution of this issue.

Students have been getting impatient with how long their applications have been stuck “In Review,” even if submitted when the FAFSA opened on Dec. 31, 2023. 

Alexandra Pasato, sophomore, said, “They are taking a long time to process [FAFSA] to the colleges.”

The update from March 12, 2024 said FAFSA applications are slowly starting to be processed and accessible to a few universities through the new FAFSA Partner Portal. FSA is trying to roll out more applications to more universities as soon as they possibly can. 

“Capital typically begins sending award letters to prospective first-time-in-college students in late October or early November. We are still not able to send awards for next year, but expect to be able to do so in the coming weeks.” said Stephanie Sanders, interim vice president of strategic enrollment management at the university. “The national deposit deadline for first -year students has traditionally been May 1. We have extended our deadline to June 1 because of the delay, but still encourage students to pay as soon as they make their final decision.”

Financial aid and admissions offices have been waiting on FSA to give them the necessary information to make financial aid packages for prospective students. The Department of Education recently found 70,000 emails containing “crucial identifying information required for financial aid.” Officials tirelessly worked for three days to gather all the information. 

Francis Robbins, financial aid counselor at the university, said, “Our promise to students is that as soon as we start receiving data, we are going to start awarding our incoming students and then start awarding our annual students… because they’re using that information to make a decision.” 

Sanders said, “The concern is that because of the delays with the FAFSA, many prospective students are unable to make final decisions about where to attend because they still don’t have financial aid award letters and haven’t yet seen their complete financial aid packages.”

“It’s not a good entry point if you’re a high need student to not be able to get your information to your school. In the delay that it’s caused, we’re just hopeful that students will hang in there and still plan to attend college.” Robbins said, “For some students, any bump in that road can set them on that [not attending university] course. This is a big bump.”

Sophomore Carmen Craddieth said, “The education rights in certain classes that aren’t getting an education, I mean, nothing is changing and with these kinds of difficulties, it’s only making it worse.”

Feedback of the streamlined form itself has still been confusing even with the reduction of nearly 100 questions. 

“[The FAFSA form] is really long and time consuming and sometimes I don’t understand what they ask for.” Lara Jimenez, sophomore, said, “The explanation they have when you press that question symbol is not always super helpful, so I have to Google it or refer to some other resource.”

First-year Alexia Gomez said, ”It was better than the first time, which was time consuming, but it’s still time consuming…I would have to look up some words if I’m being honest.”

Submitting incomplete forms as last options for deadlines or misunderstanding the new “Apply for Direct Unsubsidized Loan Only” question only qualifies the applicant for unsubsidized loans that must be paid while enrolled. Changes can’t be made until after the application has been processed.

Robbins said, ”By mistake [applicants are] going ‘Oh yes I want loans.’ But by saying yes to that, you’re saying, ‘I only want loans and I only want an unsubsidized loan and I’m not going to put my parent information in.’ Don’t do that. The answer is no to that.”

As a completely new system attempting to simplify the form, the transition has been rough, but FSA is trying to correct the reported issues as fast as they can.

For any additional concerns navigating the new FAFSA, students can contact the university’s financial aid office who is gathering data to help more students with similar issues.

Author

  • Megan Martinez

    Megan is a second-year Political Science, History, and Spanish major. She is the President of Students Latinx of Affinities, the Humanities Representatives in Student Government, a Smooth Transitions mentor and a member of the Capital University Dance Team. In her free time, she loves to watch movies.

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