FAFSA Revamp Delays Financial Aid: How Colleges Can Support Students

Posted: April 5, 2024

Danielle Attanasio CRM Strategist

Millions of students rely on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to access financial aid for college. While the 2024-2025 FAFSA rollout aimed to simplify the process, unexpected delays in processing have caused frustration for many. A letter was sent to the U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona from the American Council on Education that showed that, according to a recent survey, nearly two-thirds of colleges and universities polled in a new survey said they don’t believe they’ll be able to successfully process student financial aid data in the existing timeline. And almost half of the polled colleges have already begun adjusting their decision deadlines to accommodate.

These changes, delays, and frustrations are impacting students, families, and colleges. So let’s explore the reasons behind the delays and strategies for colleges to support students and families navigating these uncertain times.

FAFSA Revamp: What Changed?

The FAFSA overhaul brought several key changes:

From Maze to Manageable

The FAFSA has undergone a significant reduction in complexity. The application went from a daunting 108 questions in the 2023-2024 cycle to a more manageable 36 in the current year. This aims to increase accessibility and make the process less intimidating for students and families.

As prospective students and their families grapple with the intricacies of financial aid, admissions teams play a crucial role in providing clarity, guidance, and reassurance. We’ve previously written in more detail about the FAFSA updates and several key strategies that admissions departments can adopt to communicate effectively with prospective students and their families.

Replacing EFC with SAI

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) has been replaced by the Student Aid Index (SAI). The Department of Education explains that the new formula considers a wider range of factors, potentially expanding financial aid eligibility for low-income students.

Just an extra note: As the SAI is a new system, there’s limited data on how it will ultimately impact financial aid awards. The full picture of whether it truly benefits specific demographics may not be clear for a few years. Overall, the FAFSA’s switch to the SAI has the potential to benefit low-income students by increasing financial aid access. However, the long-term effects and impacts on different income brackets require further observation. More information about the SAI can be found here.

Modernized Platform and Accessibility

The FAFSA application is now available in multiple languages, catering to a broader range of students and families with diverse backgrounds. The application interface has also been revamped to be more user-friendly, making it easier for students to navigate and complete the process.

Why the Delays?

While the changes themselves are positive, the data format accompanying the new FAFSA threw a curveball. The recent FAFSA delays aren’t just a headache for students waiting on financial aid. Colleges themselves are feeling the pinch in several key areas:

  • Later Data Delivery: Colleges received FAFSA data much later than usual, pushing back their own financial aid award processing timelines.
  • System Adjustments Required: Many colleges need to update their systems to accommodate the new data format.
  • Enrollment Scramble: With financial aid packages arriving later, colleges can’t predict their incoming class size as accurately. This throws a wrench into admissions decisions and financial planning for the institution.
  • Retention Ripple Effect: Financial aid is a lifeline for many students. Delays could lead to financial stress, making them more likely to drop out or delay graduation.

How Can Colleges Help?

These delays create uncertainty and uncomfortability for students and families. They are likely feeling frustrated, confused, and concerned for their future at an institution. Here’s how colleges can take an active role in supporting them:

  • Communicate Clearly: Proactively inform students and families about the delays and expected timelines for receiving financial aid packages.
  • Flexible Deadlines: Consider extending deposit deadlines or offering alternative enrollment options for students awaiting financial aid information.
  • Increased Transparency: Clearly explain the new FAFSA format and how it might affect their financial aid package.
  • Enhanced Communication: Offer more open communication channels for students to ask questions and stay updated.
  • Be Open to Estimations: Colleges could explore offering estimated financial aid packages based on national averages while they wait for confirmed data.

Overall, while the FAFSA revamp is a step in the right direction, the initial rollout presents challenges. By implementing these supportive measures, colleges can ensure a smoother experience for students navigating this year’s financial aid process.

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