Issues with FAFSA could mean many students don't go to college in the fall : Consider This from NPR (2024)

For many college-bound students, the federal financial aid process has been beset by problems. John Lamb/Getty Images hide caption

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John Lamb/Getty Images

For many college-bound students, the federal financial aid process has been beset by problems.

John Lamb/Getty Images

This year's college financial aid process was supposed to be easier, after the U.S. Department of Education revamped the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, last year.

But problems with the FAFSA form began last fall:

  • The new form was released months behind schedule, setting colleges scrambling to get financial aid packages out in time.
  • The released form included a mistake that would have cost students $1.8 billion in federal student aid. The Education Department said in January it would fix the issue – but the fix only compounded the delays in sending student's FAFSA data to schools.
  • And a technical issue with the form meant many non-citizens, or children of non-citizens, could not fill it out.


Exclusive: The Education Department says it will fix its $1.8 billion FAFSA mistake

Vanessa Cordova Ramirez is a U.S. citizen, but her mom is not. When they sat down to fill out the FAFSA earlier this year, the application didn't go through. It's a similar story for others with parents who do not have a Social Security number.

Cordova Ramirez was in a financial aid limbo. She had gotten into all her top choice schools, but she couldn't commit or put a deposit down anywhere without knowing how much financial aid she was getting from each school.

"If I don't receive anything, what am I supposed to do?" she said. "How am I going to pay for everything? Am I going to go into the school that I want to? Am I going to pursue the career that I want to? Am I going to be something in life?"

Finally, after many attempts to submit the FAFSA, Cordova Ramirez got her form through in May.

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Many students are still stuck

NPR spoke with families, counselors and advocates who shared similar problems as Cordova Ramirez. Among those impacted are permanent residents, green card holders and undocumented parents without a Social Security number.


Yet another FAFSA problem: Many noncitizens can't fill it out

Eric Hoover is a senior writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education and has been covering the FAFSA ordeal. He says there are still a lot of students experiencing issues with FAFSA, like low-income first generation students and, in many cases, students who are born in the U.S. but have one or more parents who are undocumented.

"It also includes a huge swath of broadly defined middle-income students who have encountered problems with the FAFSA and who, in some cases, had to wait and wait and wait to get one aid offer or to get aid offers from all the colleges they were waiting to hear from so that they could sit down at the kitchen table with mom and dad and try to make an apples-to-apples comparison of their aid offers," he says.

And for some students, Hoover says it's not just a question of how much money they will get: "The FAFSA is a key that unlocks college for so many American families."

"In many cases, without every last dollar that they will hope to receive, they're not going to be able to attend perhaps the college they most wanted to attend but, in some cases, any college at all."

Universities are concerned

Hoover says some colleges are nervous about their enrollment numbers dropping: "Particularly at the many relatively small colleges that do not have gigantic endowments, as well as regional public institutions throughout the country."

He says he has been in touch with some college presidents and enrollment leaders who are keeping an eye on the bottom line.


A new FAFSA setback means many college financial aid offers won't come until April

"In some cases, the downstream effect of that enrollment shortfall could be budget cuts that really hurt, could be pay or hiring freezes and perhaps, you know, the worst kind of cuts that any college could make, which is to cut jobs," he says. "An empty seat is a lost revenue."

FAFSA is the key to college for many students. Hoover says most colleges don't have the resources to fill that missing federal aid.

Hoover says the college officials he's spoken with want the lingering technical errors in the FAFSA to be fixed: "They want to hear that students who still can't get through and complete the federal aid form are not being ignored and that if there need to be more workarounds that enable the FAFSA saga of 2024 to subside, it needs to happen now."

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This episode was produced by Alejandra Marquez Janse, Linnea Anderson and Brianna Scott. It was edited by Tinbete Ermyas and Courtney Dorning. Sequoia Carrillo and Janet Woojeong Lee contributed reporting.Our executive producer is Sami Yenigun.

Issues with FAFSA could mean many students don't go to college in the fall : Consider This from NPR (2024)


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