Colleges Rush to Provide Financial Aid to Students in Summer Term

College enrollment this year has been particularly challenging, and concerns are being raised by financial aid experts regarding the tight timeline that students may face if they rely on federal funding to attend summer school.

Although most students typically register for the fall and spring terms, some, especially nontraditional and low-income students, depend on summer school to expedite their degree completion and save on costs. Since 2017, changes made by the U.S. Education Department have allowed these students to qualify for year-round government assistance.

However, the recent congressional mandate to simplify the college financial aid application process has disrupted the system. Students nationwide have encountered difficulties in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), while errors in crucial data by the government have complicated aid offers for colleges.

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Despite improvements in processing times, with FAFSAs now being reviewed within one to three days according to the Education Department, many colleges remain behind schedule. This chaos has led some schools to devise their own methods for calculating costs for eligible summer enrollees who qualify for Pell Grants.

“We are extremely concerned about prospective summer enrollees and beyond,” expressed MorraLee Keller from the National College Attainment Network. “The FAFSA debacle has impacted every facet of higher education.”

The Education Department reassured in a statement to USA TODAY that the timelines for accessing Pell funds at colleges will not affect the total federal aid available to students. Over 10 million FAFSA forms were processed by the agency as of Friday.

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How a small Kansas college is faring

Brenda Hicks, the director of financial aid at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, has been diligently working to secure Pell funding for summer students with limited financial resources.

Southwestern College, known for basing its summer aid on students’ FAFSA data for the upcoming year, faced challenges this year due to delayed FAFSA submissions from some older, busy summer students. Despite initial hurdles, aid disbursement for the Pell-eligible class has progressed at Southwestern, ensuring students receive their entitled aid.

In dealing with FAFSA issues, Hicks shared the struggles of assisting a student who is still awaiting financial aid estimates. Collaborating with the billing team is crucial to avoiding any penalties for unpaid fees during this period.

Hicks expressed concerns about larger institutions potentially facing similar difficulties in aiding summer students.

Colleges’ financial aid appeals still in limbo

It remains uncertain how many colleges are under pressure to accelerate their summer financial aid processes this year. While most institutions base summer aid on the previous year’s FAFSA, a sizable minority may experience time constraints.

According to the Education Department, approximately 700,000 students received Pell Grants on a year-round basis in the 2021-22 academic year, with most aid starting in the fall term.

Students with special financial circumstances might face challenges this summer, as colleges are currently unable to appeal government aid calculations for exceptional cases, such as medical emergencies.

While corrected information is not expected to be processed by the government in large volumes until July, schools are allowed to offer preliminary aid based on estimates to summer students. However, discrepancies between preliminary and official aid will need to be rectified later in the summer.

“Hopefully, they are the same,” remarked Desjean.

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