Bipartisan Outrage Over FAFSA Rollout In Washington On Full Display

The Biden administration’s handling of college financial aid this year has caused frustration among both Republicans and Democrats in Washington.

High school seniors across the country are anxiously waiting for aid offers without a clear timeline. Schools are struggling to provide families with payment information due to incomplete data from the federal government. The Education Department is hastily trying to rectify last-minute data errors affecting over 2 million students.

During a congressional hearing, bipartisan exasperation over the mounting problems reached a boiling point.

A group of college financial aid experts worried about a potential enrollment crisis this fall expressed their dismay over the ongoing issues with the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The Education Department was criticized for what some termed a “crisis of credibility.” Even a Republican congressman from Texas, who is a parent of two high school seniors, mentioned his family’s experience with delays.

Read more:The Education Department under fire as FAFSA problems persist.

Advocates monitoring this year’s financial aid process were stunned by the developments.

“We have limited, precious weeks left,” remarked Kim Cook, CEO of the National College Attainment Network.

The hearing highlighted a rare instance of bipartisan agreement while depicting a grim situation in the current college admissions landscape. Despite the federal government’s attempt to simplify this year’s FAFSA at Congress’s behest, completion of the form by high school seniors dropped by 40% through the end of March, according to a tracker.

Not only high school seniors but also most college students seeking financial aid must submit the FAFSA. Officials reported a 30% decrease in applications compared to the previous year.

During the Capitol Hill hearing, college financial aid experts rebuked the Education Department for downplaying delays and errors in its communications with schools, suggesting a need for accountability at the highest levels.

Justin Draeger, the president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, remarked, “If a financial aid director or a college president delayed aid for six months, the professional consequences would be severe.”

The Education Department disclosed that over a million students need to make corrections to their FAFSAs, with the functionality to do so expected to be available early next week. Colleges will have to wait until May 1 to receive the corrected versions of the applications for processing.

Although many schools extended their enrollment deadlines, some have not, leaving students and parents in a dilemma.

In response to the growing concerns, Education Department officials are working to enhance their communication with schools. Rich Cordray, the chief operating officer for the Office of Federal Student Aid, emphasized the urgency of providing data to colleges promptly.

However, the chaotic financial aid process has dashed the hopes of many students aspiring for higher education, according to Rachelle Feldman, the vice provost for enrollment at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Rachelle Feldman, the vice provost for enrollment at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, testifies at Wednesday's congressional hearing about the FAFSA rollout.

Republicans criticize Biden’s handling of student loan relief

A law passed in 2020 mandated an overhaul of the FAFSA, a complex form with over 100 questions that had deterred families for years. The antiquated system needed modernization to make college more accessible.

Due to a series of glitches, the new, simplified form was delayed, leaving students with a shortened timeframe to make critical decisions about their futures.

Read more:Colleges urge Education Department for more time to process FAFSA data

Republicans attribute the FAFSA delays to the Biden administration’s focus on student loan relief, diverting attention away from necessary changes to the application process.

According to Mark Kantrowitz, a student financial aid expert, the administration’s efforts on student debt cancellation have overshadowed FAFSA reforms.

At a separate budget hearing, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona refuted claims that the FAFSA changes were neglected in favor of other initiatives.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona largely avoided questions about the ongoing FAFSA delays at a Wednesday budget hearing on Capitol Hill.

Democrats seek accountability from third-party contractor

Critics, including some Education Department employees, have pointed fingers at outside contractors who were engaged in the FAFSA overhaul and received substantial funding.

Senate Democrats penned a letter to General Dynamics Information Technology, seeking explanations for the FAFSA debacle.

“Your efforts seem to have failed, causing harm to millions of students and colleges,” wrote Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ron Wyden.

Representatives from the company refrained from commenting on the letter.

Furthermore, the Government Accountability Office has initiated investigations into the FAFSA rollout, following requests from congressional Republicans. These inquiries are still in early stages.

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