Educational institutions need to take action to mitigate delays in financial aid forms.

Each year, the process of planning for higher education and seeking financial aid is a complex, daunting, and time-consuming endeavor for families.

Amid a significant array of revisions to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), delays in application processing, and a rising number of technical problems and challenges with the application process, meeting the FAFSA deadline for priority admission to California state universities may appear nearly impossible this year.

Our organization has observed that parents and families in this cycle of applications are facing frustration. Concerned about their students’ future, they are asking, “With all the FAFSA delays, will students have more time to make decisions about their future school next year?”

In our view, they absolutely should have more time.

The accounts from the families we engaged with align with the national trend. An analysis by the National College Attainment Network revealed that FAFSA submissions for the 2024 graduating class are trailing last year’s seniors by 42%. Even if families manage to submit their applications, financial aid packages won’t be finalized until early April, six weeks later than originally anticipated and four months beyond the usual timeline.

These delays go beyond mere inconvenience.

The setbacks and technical glitches within the application process will disproportionately affect students most reliant on financial aid. Students of color, those from mixed-status families, first-generation college-goers, students experiencing homelessness, and those in the foster care system are more likely to encounter challenges in accessing financial aid, or completing the application process altogether. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education resolved an issue that was impeding applications for students with parents lacking a social security number, giving these students less than three weeks to submit their applications.

Policy-makers and advocates nationwide have put forward various suggestions to ensure that students and families can make well-informed decisions about higher education. More than 100 members of Congress have called on Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to provide clarity and mitigate the potential consequences of FAFSA issues.

California legislators are currently deliberating on extending state financial aid by a month. In light of the delays in Institutional Student Information Records, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association issued recommendations for states. Additionally, the National College Attainment Network and nine other organizations have called for extensions to university commitment and scholarship deadlines.

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced a relaxation of requirements for colleges and universities to allow more time to deliver financial aid packages to families. Nonetheless, this action alone may not suffice to ensure equitable access to college funding nationwide.

Higher education institutions need to take proactive steps to assist students and families in accessing the financial aid they rightfully deserve. They should postpone commitment and scholarship deadlines to June 1 to afford families ample time to compare financial aid packages and select the right university.

The FAFSA Simplification Act aimed to enhance access to financial aid for students nationwide. Let’s avoid penalizing the students and families who are essentially acting as beta testers this year. We must strive to eliminate as many barriers as possible and uphold our commitment to simplifying the financial aid process for this generation and beyond.

•••

Darcel Sanders is CEO of GO Public Schools, a non-profit organization fostering advocacy for equitable public education for underserved students in California. Previously, she served as legislative director for state Sen. Carol Liu and was also a middle school educator in Oakland.

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