Don’t Give Up On The FAFSA, Advocates For Student Financial Aid Urge

Shauneen Miranda, Daily Montanan

Though the new version of the form to apply for federal financial student aid has had its fair share of highly publicized hiccups, U.S. Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal says the department has made a lot of progress in the past couple of months.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid — better known as FAFSA — got a makeover after Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act in late 2020. But users faced glitches and technical errors during the Dec. 30 soft launch and past the Jan. 8 official debut for the 2024-25 form, which covers the upcoming school year.

Advocates voiced concerns over the form’s failure to adjust for inflation, its formula miscalculation and its tax data errors, prompting processing delays the department has worked to fix. The federal agency has also taken steps to address major issues that prevented parents without Social Security numbers from completing the form.

“We’re fixing things at a rapid pace, and we’ve been keeping the community updated. We have an issues guide on the website that lets people know the problems we’re aware of and what the potential solutions are. In almost every case now, there is a way for students to submit the form,” Kvaal told States Newsroom in an interview.

“It may be a customer service experience that is not what we originally designed, and so we’re gonna continue to try and make this process easier and faster for all students, including those whose parents may not have Social Security numbers, but it is possible now for everyone to submit a FAFSA,” Kvaal said.

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

More than 11 million FAFSA submissions

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

Last week, the department said it has made “significant progress” in closing the gap in FAFSA submissions to an 8 percent decrease compared to this time last year, down from a nearly 40 percent decrease in March.

For both undergraduate and graduate students, the FAFSA form is a key indicator for financial aid eligibility, which comes in the form of grants, loans, work-study funds and scholarships.

The form is also not exclusive to first-year college students, and those already enrolled must renew their application each academic year.

“It’s still not perfect for all applicants” 

Though the department has made progress to address major known issues, “the system, certainly six months after it opened, is still not a totally functioning system,” according to MorraLee Keller, senior director of strategic programming at the National College Attainment Network, a nonprofit membership and advocacy organization.

“Right now, the form is working for a lot of applicants, but it’s still not perfect for all applicants,” she added.

The organization monitors FAFSA completion for graduating high school seniors nationally and compares those figures to the previous school year. Keller said “one thing that we’re seeing is the class of ‘24, at this point in time, is almost 13 percentage points behind in the rate at which the seniors have filed a FAFSA” this past academic year.

“We are significantly behind in the number of FAFSAs, particularly for our graduating seniors, so that is ultimately probably going to have an impact in enrollment because completing a FAFSA is a pretty good indicator about whether you plan to enroll in college this fall,” Keller said.

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

Meanwhile, Kvaal said he thinks “it’s important to note that just about everybody can get their FAFSA through the process now.” He added that “there are some specific instructions that people in certain situations need to follow carefully” and encouraged applicants to pay careful attention to the instructions and help hints.

“The FAFSA is broadly available, and it’s not accurate to say that there are students who can’t get through them,” he said.

New strategy

In early May, the federal agency launched the FAFSA Student Support Strategy, which has now provided more than “$30 million in funding and counting and has reached more than 180 organizations across the country” in an attempt to get more students to complete the form, according to the department.

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

In late May, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the department has taken steps aimed at “modernizing” the Office of Federal Student Aid, including the department’s search for a new chief operating officer, per a news release. That person would replace Richard Cordray, who, in the midst of backlash and criticism toward the department over the botched rollout, said in April he would depart.

Part of the department’s efforts, according to Cardona, also include conducting a “full-scale review” of the Office of Federal Student Aid’s “current and historical organization, management, staffing, workflow structures, business processes, and operations” and hiring an independent consulting firm.

The department is also reviewing “contracts and acquisition procedures” in an effort to hold vendors accountable, Cardona said.

If I haven’t filled out the 2024-25 FAFSA form, what should I do? 

Though students have until June 30, 2025, to complete the 2024-25 FAFSA form, deadlines vary based on individual colleges and states.

Kvaal encouraged anyone considering college this fall to visit Studentaid.gov and fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible.

“If you had been hearing that there were challenges with the form or people were encountering obstacles, we’ve made a lot of progress in making the form work in recent weeks, and most people, their form is getting through in one to three days, and we’re sending information to colleges that they need to make financial aid offers,” he said.

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

“The time is not gone — get your FAFSA filed this summer if you want to go to school this fall,” she said.

Daily Montanan is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Darrell Ehrlick for questions: info@dailymontanan.com. Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and X.

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