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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Federal aid delays leave students in limbo after one million errors

Fears over future disbursement timelines still loom

As college decision deadlines approached May 1, students anxiously awaited their financial aid offers after a botched federal student aid rollout left current and prospective students unsure if they could afford college tuition.  

The problems largely stem from changes made to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) during the implementation of the FAFSA Simplification Act, which was meant to remove unnecessary questionnaire sections of the FAFSA form, as well as expand aid opportunities to more students. 

In practice, however, students whose parents do not have Social Security numbers could not log in to their accounts in order to complete the FAFSA form. 

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) announced March 22 it had made calculation errors on around 200,000 completed FAFSA forms. By mid-April, that number had risen to around one million while the DoE worked to reprocess incorrect forms. 

In Alachua County, FAFSA completion rates dropped by about 15 percentage points compared to the same period during last year’s application cycle. Through May 10, only 30% to 34% of total applications from the 2024-2025 cycle were processed. 

Meanwhile, colleges waited, unable to offer students aid packages. Forty-four percent of colleges and universities surveyed by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators reported they still had not sent out financial aid offers, as of late April. However, when May came, many colleges still required students to make commitments to attend, even though they were unaware how much aid they might receive.

UF pushed its decision date back from May 1 to May 15 to provide buffer time for high school seniors who had faced FAFSA issues, but some prospective Gators are still in the dark about the status of their financial aid.

Tiana Casseus, an 18-year-old UF-bound pharmacy freshman, said delayed financial aid could have limited her options for colleges.

“Even though UF was my dream university, I wasn’t going to attend if I couldn’t financially afford it,” Casseus said. “FAFSA’s delay made it hard to commit to a school because I wasn’t aware of what my aid would be.”

Current UF students also face uncertainty in planning their 2024-2025 class schedules and housing situations as they wait.

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Kaylee Aleu, a 19-year-old UF political science sophomore, could not complete the FAFSA without her father logging into his FAFSA account. But he was unable to access it, and following typical password recovery procedures failed to resolve the issue.

“No matter what we did, even though the password was fully right, FAFSA wouldn’t let him in. I don’t know why. To this day, I don’t fully know why.” 

Aleu and her father attempted to reset his password, but the Federal Student Aid website displayed an error message explaining that her father’s Social Security was already associated with another account.

“I was left like, ‘What do I do?’ My hands were kind of tied.”

Though Aleu tried to contact the Office of Federal Student Aid, representatives told her they could not help her and her father.

Aleu began to despair, terrified she would not receive the aid she knew she would rely upon.

As she and her father continued to encounter the same problem, she began to consider dropping out of school if she could not get aid.

“My father can’t afford [owing UF]. I can’t afford that. Nobody I know can afford that,” she said.

Aleu and her father were eventually able to access the account but never received a clear explanation for why they faced issues in the first place. A representative from the DoE reset the password for them, allowing them to log on. They had done nothing differently than they had during their previous calls.

Though many students have now been able to complete their FAFSA forms, uncertainty remains for some about when they can expect to actually receive their aid.

Yasser Ogando, a 19-year-old UF computer engineering freshman, expressed concerns about the timeline of financial aid disbursements.

“How long will these funds take? The worst of it, I think, is yet to come, because who knows when that financial aid will arrive,” Orgando said. 

Ogando has still not received his aid as of May 19.

Tina Lamb, UF’s director for Student Financial Aid and Scholarship said she was unable to respond to questions. College Career Consulting, an educational consultant group that assists students with financial aid applications, also declined to comment.

Contact Avery Parker at Follow him on X @AveryParke98398.

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Avery Parker

Avery Parker is a third-year English and History major covering university affairs for The Alligator. Outside of reporting, Avery spends his time doting on his cats, reading, and listening to music by the Manwolves.

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