Second delay in FAFSA data delivery hurts students, families and financial aid staff

Published by Robin Bailey on

The financial aid department is located within the LaVerne Murphy Student Center. Mason Ramirez / The Mainstream

Though the FAFSA’s “soft launch” has already had a explosive beginning, the turbulence is not yet over: the Department of Education has again delayed FAFSA applicant data, this time until “the first half of March.” This continues a trend of last-minute, slow-going “streamlining” of federal student aid, as previously reported by The Mainstream.

“These continued delays, communicated at the last minute, threaten to harm the very students and families that federal student aid is intended to help,” said National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators President Justin Draeger in a Jan. 30 statement.

NASFAA is one of 10 education and financial aid organizations that issued a joint statement Jan. 31 urging colleges to “provide flexibility to students and families” with deadline accommodations like those offered during the pandemic.

Reason for delay: Accounting for inflation

The inflation rate between April 2020 and 2023 was over 18%, requiring adjustments in the tables in calculating a FAFSA applicant’s financial aid, according to the National College Attainment Network. This will likely lead to lower Student Aid Indexes and additional student eligibility for need-based aid.

Oregon State University and Lewis and Clark College are two of the first Oregon colleges to follow NASFAA recommendations and push back college application deadlines to June 1 due to delays.

The Ford Family Foundation will stick to its March 1 deadline despite FAFSA complications. Mason Ramirez / The Mainstream

In a Jan. 31 statement, OSU said, “Holding to the traditional May 1 deadline would impose impossible constraints on parents and students who need to receive, process and consider financial aid offers before making a final college choice for Fall 2024.”

Most scholarship services — like The Ford Family Foundation which accepts applications until March 1 — depend on information supplied by the FAFSA to determine aid eligibility for student awards. Because of the most recent delay, students, colleges and scholarship services now won’t know the actual dollar amounts of financial aid awards until March, past the deadlines of many college entrance applications.

As Ford Family director of postsecondary success Denise Callahan said in an email, “(W)e will maintain our (March) deadline… and announce awards in April and May. (Students) knowing they have some financial support will hopefully keep (them) on the path toward college.”

UCC students are nervous about the delays, partly because Oregon, by statute, has an “as-soon-as-possible” aid application deadline and a first-come, first-serve distribution policy for financial awards based on FAFSA.

“It’s really scary for me because I can’t even get into my FAFSA account now,” says AAOT student Jace McCurtain. “I’ve tried to go through their support and keep getting ‘high call volume’ messages after 20 or 30 phone calls and emails, and the only email I get back is something asking me to rate their service.”

Technical issues have greatly affected the application since it was rolled out in January. McCurtain says, “I have the impending doom of this due date trying to get my FAFSA done, and I’m worried that scholarship applications are going to require me to upload financial award amounts that I don’t have yet.”

Admissions and enrollment reporter Liam Knox from Inside Higher Ed says this delay will “substantially (shrink) students’ decision-making window,” with April as the earliest expected date of attaining an accurate financial aid package which is “crucial data informing ultimate college choice.” This especially impacts low-income and first-generation students.

The delays will also drastically affect students with unusual or specific circumstances — when students are unable to contact parents or have experienced significant financial changes not reflected on the FAFSA — who now must wait until after March to apply for changes in their aid offers, which are granted at the discretion of their attending school’s financial office.

Scholarship coordinator Honey McNamara, located in the financial aid offices, helps students with all kinds of scholarship applications. Mason Ramirez / The Mainstream

UCC scholarship coordinator Honey McNamara suggests students apply for as many scholarships as possible with consideration of all college choices. “I’d rather see students try for scholarships and hopefully get them, rather than not applying and end up needing them,” she says.

Walk-up Wednesdays: Get help with scholarship applications from professionals in the LaVerne Murphy Student Center lobby on Feb. 28 and March 6 from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. McNamara welcomes students to schedule appointments, email, call or simply walk in and request her services in the student center’s financial aid offices. “I’m here if you need help,” McNamara says, “If you need proofreading, have questions or just want to sit in my office while you apply.”

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