Troubled rollout of new FAFSA form leaves families, students in limbo

Kristin Thorne Image
Thursday, May 9, 2024
Troubled rollout of new FAFSA form leaves families, students in limbo
Kristin Thorne has details on the latest FAFSA problems.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- This is the time of year when high school seniors across our area usually decide where to go to college. But, many kids have been unable to do that because they don't know how much financial aid they'll get, if any. It all goes back to the troubled rollout of the new FAFSA, the federal student aid application.

"The FAFSA didn't launch until December 31st," said Jennifer Finetti, Scholarship Owl. "There were hiccups when it launched and it's taken a while for data to be transmitted from FAFSA to the colleges. The challenge at the college side is that they've had to wait for this data and now they've had to scramble and put together financial aid offers."

Ossining High School senior Julian Cardenas spent much of this spring checking his email waiting for news on whether his college choices would be able to offer him any aid.

"I want to make a decision," he said.

Julian's mom was also frustrated.

"It's making me anxious," Deborah Cardenas said.

In December, the federal government rolled out a new, simplified FAFSA. The idea was to have much of families' financial information already preloaded into the form from the IRS.

The form is typically made available to families in October but was launched two months late. Then, the site had tons of technical issues meaning many families couldn't fill out the form. Federal authorities had to fix the glitches. Some people are still reporting issues accessing and filling out the form.

"They launched this thing and it was supposed to be easier and it's ending now being horrible," Deborah Cardenas said.

As a result, many colleges and universities have delayed the decision deadline for students, including Fairleigh Dickinson University, Penn State, SUNY Oswego, Amherst College, and Rutgers.

In February, Ramapo College of New Jersey posted a message on its website saying it is delaying its decision deadline to June 1.

"This decision is part of Ramapo College's ongoing commitment to affordability and true to our values and brand of individualized attention," Christopher Romano, vice president for strategic enrollment, outreach, and engagement, said. "We recognize the delays to the FAFSA have hindered families and students in the decision-making process."

But, the damage from the troubled rollout of the federal form may have already been done, with many families across the country not completing the FAFSA.

Eyewitness News reviewed data from the U.S. Department of Education and found only about 35% of students across the country have completed the FAFSA - down from 47% last year. In New York City approximately 40% of students have filled out the form, down from 57% last year.

New York State recently launched a public awareness campaign encouraging families to fill out the FAFSA.

"I tell students no matter what is going on with their FAFSA, they need to focus on an affordable path to college," Finetti said. "State and financial aid is only part of that package."

Finetti said students should also be applying to the thousands of scholarships available across the country, getting a part-time job to pay for college, and considering attending community college where people can get a good degree for much less money.

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Raegan Medgie has details from Washington Heights.


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