Students and parents are frustrated by delays in hearing about federal financial aid for college


NEW YORK (AP) — For many students, the excitement of being accepted into their first-choice college is being tempered this year by a troublesome uncertainty over whether they’ll get the financial aid they need to attend.

The financial aid decisions that usually go out with acceptance letters are being delayed because of a later-than-expected rollout of a revised Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the form commonly known as FAFSA that schools use to compute financial aid.

The result: Students and their parents are putting off their college decisions.

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“We are not going to make a decision without knowing what we’re committing to financially; it would be irresponsible to do that,” said Jenny Nicholas of Keene, New Hampshire. She wants to make sure that her son, a high school senior, goes to a college that is most affordable for their family.

The Education Department said the form would be easier for parents to fill out and used a new formula to compute eligibility for aid that took inflation into account. But it wasn’t ready in October, when the forms for the coming school year are usually released. During a soft launch in December, it was difficult for many people to access the form. And the initial release didn’t include the updated inflation tool.

Schools won’t get the information they need to award financial aid until next month, forcing them to adapt. Some have moved away from the popular May 1 deadline for students to accept their offers of admission.

Just this past week, Virginia Tech, for example, said it had moved its admissions deposit deadline for first-year college students to May 15. “Understandably so, families are concerned about the FAFSA process this year, and they are telling us that they need more time to make fully informed decisions,” Juan Espinoza, interim vice provost for enrollment management, said in a statement.

The school said it anticipated notifying families about financial aid in mid-April.

“We can’t make a decision until we see a financial aid package,” said Agata James, a mother of a New York high school senior from Queens. “Everything is in limbo.”

James’ son decision is torn between two colleges, one in his home state and the other an out-of-state university that is his dream school. But James says the decision will come down to what she can afford without accumulating a large amount of student loan debt.

The Education Department has said it is working to alleviate the consequences of the delays. Some of these steps taken are reducing verification requirements, sending federal experts to under-resourced schools and allocating money for technical assistance to non-profit groups.

“We are determined to get this right,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement this month. “We must, and we will.”

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Source: AP News