Don’t give up on the FAFSA, say advocates for student financial aid

A makeover for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has faced glitches and technical errors.


National News

June 24, 2024 - 12:59 PM

The number of federal student financial aid forms filed by graduating high school seniors is down compared to last year, after glitches and technical errors plagued the process. Photo by sdominick/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Though the new version of the form to apply for federal financial student aid has had its fair share of highly publicized hiccups, U.S. Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal says the department has made a lot of progress in the past couple of months.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid — better known as FAFSA — got a makeover after Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act in late 2020. But users faced glitches and technical errors during the Dec. 30 soft launch and past the Jan. 8 official debut for the 2024-25 form, which covers the upcoming school year.

Advocates voiced concerns over the form’s failure to adjust for inflation, its formula miscalculation and its tax data errors, prompting processing delays the department has worked to fix. The federal agency has also taken steps to address major issues that prevented parents without Social Security numbers from completing the form.

“We’re fixing things at a rapid pace, and we’ve been keeping the community updated. We have an issues guide on the website that lets people know the problems we’re aware of and what the potential solutions are. In almost every case now, there is a way for students to submit the form,” Kvaal told States Newsroom in an interview.

“It may be a customer service experience that is not what we originally designed, and so we’re gonna continue to try and make this process easier and faster for all students, including those whose parents may not have Social Security numbers, but it is possible now for everyone to submit a FAFSA,” Kvaal said.

He oversees higher education and financial aid, including the Office of Federal Student Aid, which is the largest student financial aid provider in the country.

More than 11 million FAFSA submissions

Kvaal said the department has already received more than 11 million FAFSA submissions for the 2024-25 school year.

Last week, the department said it has made “significant progress” in closing the gap in FAFSA submissions to an 8 percent decrease compared to this time last year, down from a nearly 40 percent decrease in March.

For both undergraduate and graduate students, the FAFSA form is a key indicator for financial aid eligibility, which comes in the form of grants, loans, work-study funds and scholarships.

The form is also not exclusive to first-year college students, and those already enrolled must renew their application each academic year.

“It’s still not perfect for all applicants” 

Though the department has made progress to address major known issues, “the system, certainly six months after it opened, is still not a totally functioning system,” according to MorraLee Keller, senior director of strategic programming at the National College Attainment Network, a nonprofit membership and advocacy organization.

“Right now, the form is working for a lot of applicants, but it’s still not perfect for all applicants,” she added.

The organization monitors FAFSA completion for graduating high school seniors nationally and compares those figures to the previous school year. Keller said “one thing that we’re seeing is the class of ‘24, at this point in time, is almost 13 percentage points behind in the rate at which the seniors have filed a FAFSA” this past academic year.