Don't give up on the FAFSA program, financial aid advocates urge • New Hampshire Bulletin

WASHINGTON: Although there have been a number of high-profile glitches with the new version of the federal financial aid application form, US Education Secretary James Kvaal said the department has made great progress in recent months.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) was overhauled after Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act in late 2020. But during the soft launch on December 30 and even after the official launch of the 2024-25 form on January 8, which covers the upcoming school year, users have struggled with glitches and technical errors.

Advocates raised concerns about the form's lack of inflation adjustment, formula miscalculations and errors in tax data, which led to processing delays that the department is working to fix. The federal agency has also taken steps to address key issues that prevented parents without Social Security numbers from completing the form.

“We are fixing the issues at a rapid pace and keeping the community informed. We have an issues guide on the website that informs people of the issues we know about and possible solutions. In almost all cases, there is now a way for students to submit the form,” Kvaal said in an interview with States Newsroom.

“It may be a customer service experience that is not what we originally intended. So we will continue to try to make this process easier and faster for all students, including those whose parents may not have a Social Security number. But now it is possible for anyone to file a FAFSA,” Kvaal said.

He is responsible for higher education and financial aid, including the Office of Federal Student Aid, the largest provider of student financial aid in the country.

More than 11 million FAFSA applications

Kvaal said the department has already received more than 11 million FAFSA applications for the 2024-25 school year.

Last week, the department said it had made “significant progress” in closing the gap in FAFSA applications, which was down 8 percent from the same period last year. In March, the decline was nearly 40 percent.

For both undergraduate and graduate students, the FAFSA form is an important indicator of eligibility for financial aid, which comes in the form of grants, loans, student and work experience assistance, and scholarships.

The form is not only reserved for first-year students; students who are already enrolled must renew their application every academic year.

“It is not yet optimal for all applicants”

While the department has made progress in addressing key known issues, “the system is still not fully functional six months after it opened,” said MorraLee Keller, senior director of strategic programming at the National College Attainment Network, a nonprofit membership and advocacy organization.

“Currently the form works for many applicants, but it is not yet perfect for all applicants,” she added.

The organization monitors high school seniors' FAFSA applications nationwide and compares those numbers to the previous school year. Keller said, “One thing we're watching is that the class of 2024 is almost 13 percentage points behind the rate at which high school seniors filed a FAFSA last school year.”

“We are significantly behind on the number of FAFSAs, especially for our graduating classes. So that will probably ultimately impact enrollment numbers because a completed FAFSA is a pretty good indicator of whether you plan to enroll in college in the fall,” Keller said.

Tennessee, Louisiana, Illinois, Washington, DC and Texas have the highest percentages of high school graduates completing the FAFSA form, according to the NCAN tracker. Nevada, Florida, Arizona, Utah and Alaska have the lowest percentages.

In the meantime, Kvaal said it's important to know that “just about anyone can now submit their FAFSA form.” He added that there are “some specific instructions that people need to follow closely in certain situations,” and urged applicants to pay close attention to the instructions and help guides.

“The FAFSA program is widely available and it is not accurate to say that there are students who do not qualify,” he said.

New strategy

In early May, the federal agency launched the FAFSA Student Support Strategy, which the department says has now “provided more than $30 million in funding and reached more than 180 organizations across the country” to encourage more students to fill out the form.

The department also recently announced that Jeremy Singer, current president of the College Board, will serve as the new senior advisor for FAFSA.

In late May, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a press release that the department had taken steps to “modernize” the Office of Federal Student Aid, including finding a new chief operating officer to replace Richard Cordray, who announced his resignation in April amid backlash and criticism of the department over its botched rollout.

The department's efforts, according to Cardona, also include conducting a “comprehensive review” of the Office of Federal Student Aid's “current and historical organization, management, staffing, work structures, business processes and operations” and engaging an independent consulting firm.

The ministry is also reviewing “contracts and procurement procedures” to hold suppliers accountable, Cardona said.

What should I do if I have not completed the 2024-25 FAFSA?

Although students have until June 30, 2025, to complete the 2024-25 FAFSA form, deadlines vary by college and state.

Kvaal recommends that anyone considering college this fall visit as soon as possible and fill out the FAFSA form.

“If you've heard there were issues with the form or people were running into obstacles, rest assured that we've made great progress in the last few weeks in getting the form to work. For most people, the form is ready in one to three days and we're sending information to colleges that they need to offer financial aid,” he said.

Keller also encouraged families not to give up on filling out the form.

“Time is not up yet – submit your FAFSA application this summer if you plan to go to school in the fall,” she said.

Anna Harden

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