FAFSA processing updates: Potential delays expected as ED addresses formula error

Advocates for college affordability had a mixed response to the Biden administration’s adjustments to the income formula for the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to account for inflation.

The adjustment corrected an oversight by the Education Department that inaccurately calculated family incomes on the newly released version of the application, which millions of students use to apply for college each year. As a result, an additional $1.8 billion in federal student aid was made available to American families.

The FAFSA rollout this year has already experienced significant delays amid efforts to simplify the form. The recent announcement has raised concerns about further disruptions to the application process for families and colleges nationwide, even among those who strongly support reducing college costs.

Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, expressed his thoughts on the matter, saying “Adjusting these inflationary numbers is the right thing to do, and should have been done from the beginning. Unfortunately, because the Department is making these updates so late in the financial aid processing cycle, students will now pay the price in the form of additional delays in financial aid offers and compressed decision-making timelines.”

In a statement to USA TODAY, the Education Department highlighted that the adjustment aligns with the Biden administration’s broader goal of reducing the cost of college. Spokesperson Johanny Adames emphasized that they are committed to making higher education accessible to more students and ensuring they qualify for as much financial aid as possible.

What led to the delay?

Usually, the FAFSA opens on October 1st. However, this year, the Education Department worked on revamping the form following legislation passed by Congress in 2020. The changes aimed to reduce the number of questions families need to answer and modify how the federal government calculates the estimated available funds for college expenses.

The department had a legal obligation to launch the new form by the end of December, which already disrupted the college application season. However, instead of making it fully accessible by then, the agency gradually introduced the new form in increments of 30 minutes on December 30th and 31st. It was only available for two hours on January 1st. This appointment process frustrated many students who needed to complete the form during the holiday break. On January 8th, the government finally made the form available 24/7.

Despite the delays, the department believes it was worth it as now some students can complete the form in less than 10 minutes. Additionally, over 600,000 more students may qualify for federal Pell grants, which provide financial aid to lower-income students for college expenses.

Calls for auditing FAFSA rollout by Congressional Republicans

While many commend the administration’s efforts to increase financial assistance for students, the delayed rollout has created uncertainty and concerns in the college application process. Colleges are worried about its potential impact on the financial aid offers they can provide, leaving many students and parents uncertain about their options.

The delay has given Congressional Republicans an opportunity to raise concerns about the Education Department’s handling of the FAFSA rollout. In a letter to the head of the Government Accountability Office, a group of GOP lawmakers has requested an audit of the new FAFSA rollout. They believe that while the goal of simplifying the FAFSA was to make the process easier, the current outreach efforts by the Education Department are falling short.

Representative Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia and the ranking member on the House education committee, expressed his support for Tuesday’s decision, considering it great news for students and families. He previously urged the Education Department to share its plans for updating the income formula for inflation.

Bryce McKibben, a college affordability advocate involved in crafting the 2020 law that simplified the FAFSA, understands the concerns raised by colleges about the uncertain timeline. However, he emphasized the importance of ensuring students receive the aid they deserve, particularly benefiting middle-income individuals.

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