California universities face exceptional FAFSA errors and delays

This article was revised on 4/16 to bring in the latest updates regarding the decline in completed FAFSA applications in California.

Unprecedented challenges have emerged for students seeking federal financial aid, causing chaos among financial aid and admissions officers at colleges and universities in California. They are now working longer hours and under more stress due to these issues, exacerbated by staff shortages.

The U.S. Department of Education’s implementation of the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form has been troublesome and exasperating for students, families, and the educational institutions they aim to join. Financial aid often plays a pivotal role in students’ college decisions.

These delays have also led to students postponing their decision-making process.

Kamila Juarez, a senior at Grace Davis High in Modesto, awaits financial aid notifications from multiple universities she’s been accepted to, such as Cal Poly SLO, UC Davis, UCLA, and UC San Diego. The uncertainty regarding financial aid has left her in a frustrating predicament, delaying her final choice.

Expressing her stress, Juarez mentioned, “It’s kind of stressful… When I do know how much I get, I know I’ll have to decide pretty fast.”

Both the UC and CSU systems have extended the deadline for the Intent to Register for fall 2024, with various Cal State campuses extending it even further due to the ongoing delays.

Unique Impact on California

California, specifically, has faced severe impacts from the FAFSA problems due to the significant number of “mixed-status” families in the state, leading to many students being unable to submit a FAFSA application. To address this issue, students can now submit a California Dream Act application as an alternative to access state financial aid.

Financial aid directors, like Becki Sanchez from UC Irvine, express concerns about the equity challenges in providing financial aid to various student groups, creating unease among the decision-makers.

The challenges persist, leaving financial aid officers struggling to cope with the unprecedented situation this year, unlike anything they have encountered in nearly 40 years.

As per the National College Attainment Network’s FAFSA tracker, California has witnessed a significant decline in FAFSA completions compared to last year. The state has extended its priority FAFSA application deadline to accommodate these delays.

Financial aid notifications are expected to be delayed in several California campuses, including CSU East Bay and Cal Poly Pomona, further adding to the stress and workload of financial aid officers.

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