FAFSA: 2024 What's happening with college financial aid?
10 mins read

FAFSA: 2024 What's happening with college financial aid?

A version of this story appeared in CNN's What Matters newsletter. Sign up for free to get it in your inbox Here,


The already stressful college admissions process was thrown into chaos this year by a failed bureaucratic upgrade. Hiccups and delays in the federal financial aid process have prevented some high school seniors and current college students from receiving aid packages from schools.

The dirty secret of college tuition is that most people won't pay full price, but delays mean that many students haven't received real offers yet. If students don't know how much things will cost, they can't finalize plans.

Ironically, the recession happened because the government tried to make the FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – easier to fill out.

Katie Lobosco is a CNN reporter who covers higher education, and she notes that every college student, whether new or returning, must submit the FAFSA to be eligible for federal grants and loans. In most cases, the FAFSA is also used to determine financial aid offered by colleges, although some require students to submit an additional form.

The FAFSA failure has created a two-front student loan issue for the Biden administration. On the one hand, President Joe Biden has used executive authority to try to forgive many existing, burdensome student loans. On the other hand, his administration is struggling to get students access to financial aid in the first place – putting some students at risk of being denied scholarships and grants, potentially forcing them to take on more student loans to begin with Is.

I spoke with LoBosco by email to find out what's going on with the FAFSA.

wolf: What happened with FAFSA this year?

Lobosco: To put it bluntly, the entire FAFSA process this year has been hit by one delay after another, leaving students and colleges in limbo.

The Department of Education issued an overhaul of the FAFSA for the 2024-25 academic year as required by Congress. And while the new version is meant to simplify the process for students and families to apply for college financial aid, the rollout of the form has been anything but smooth.

First, the form was not available until late December – about three months later than usual – and was offline for several hours a day during the first week of January. Since then, the FAFSA process has been plagued with problems and glitches, making it difficult for some students and families to complete the form.

Additionally, a series of FAFSA calculation errors made on the backend were found last month potentially impacting approximately 1 million forms that have already been processed.

These mistakes create two big problems:

  • Fewer students have completed the FAFSA so far this year.
  • Colleges and universities are well behind schedule in receiving financial aid award letters to prospective students who are trying to decide where to enroll next year.

wolf: Have all students received assistance letters at this time?

Lobosco: Some but not all problems have been resolved. many Known issues remain, Some people are being affected while filling the form. And the Education Department will still have to Reprocess some forms,

Typically, colleges and universities send students their financial aid award letters in March – but this year, schools didn't even start receiving FAFSA information until March. Once they receive the applicant's information, they can develop an aid package (usually consisting of scholarships, grants, and/or loans) to offer the student.

Most of the students I've talked to are still waiting for those letters and, because of the complicated way of financial aid in this country, won't know until they get them next year. How much will college cost them?

wolf: When do high school seniors need to decide where to enroll next year?

Lobosco: Colleges and universities typically give students a deadline of May 1, commonly known as “college decision day”, to indicate whether they wish to enroll in the fall and deposit. Want to pay the amount. hundreds of schools Some have said they will push back the deadline this year due to problems with the FAFSA – but others have not.

This is why students and families are panicking. They may have to decide where to enroll without complete information about how much their options will cost.

wolf: What do we know about the millions of people who have not yet completed their FAFSA?

Lobosco: It's safe to say that hundreds of thousands of students will still need to submit forms this year to qualify for financial aid starting in the fall — and the fear is that low-income families who need help the most, they You will get stuck and troubled by all the glitches in the process.

About 34% of high school seniors had submitted the FAFSA by March 22, according to National College Attainment Network, This is approximately 29% less than the previous class at the same point last year.

According to NCAN data, there has been a large decline in the share of high school seniors submitting the FAFSA from low-income schools as well as schools with a higher percentage of minority students.

wolf: Do we have any idea why this happened?

Lobosco: There is a lot of blame all around. The Biden administration has said it was a huge undertaking — one that changed not only the FAFSA form, but also the calculation and backend processing system — and that its requests for more funding from Congress were not met.

Republicans argue that the Education Department was too focused on implementing Biden's student loan forgiveness policies and sidelined FAFSA work.

Some frustrated families are saying the government should not have issued the updated form if it was not ready for prime time. But Congress had demanded that the changes be implemented by January 1, 2024 — a deadline that had already been pushed back a year.

wolf: I'm reminded of the absolutely terrible rollout of Healthcare.gov, which was a bureaucratic failure that was fixed in the later enrollment period. Will this FAFSA problem be fixed next year?

Lobosco: No one knows for sure, but I think the FAFSA process will get a lot easier next year. There may be some glitches here and there, but the education department is working on all the glitches that come to light.

Additionally, the government intends to open the FAFSA as usual on October 1 for those applying for financial aid for the 2025-26 academic year. So students and families will have more time to complete the form and, if all goes according to plan, colleges and universities will have the necessary information from the FAFSA with enough time to send students their aid packages in March.

wolf: While the Biden administration gets low marks for this FAFSA failure, Biden has done a lot (without Congress) to work toward student loan forgiveness. What are the broad outlines to know about it?

Lobosco: This is true. The Biden administration has made it easier for borrowers to get debt relief. Nearly 4 million people have seen their federal student loans canceled under Biden, totaling about $144 billion.

His administration has done this largely by canceling debt through existing programs that provide relief to certain groups of borrowers, such as public sector workers, students defrauded by for-profit colleges, and borrowers with disabilities. (Biden's sweeping student loan forgiveness program, which received the most attention, was struck down by the Supreme Court last year and never took effect.)

But those debt relief efforts don't help high school seniors applying to college right now who are frustrated by FAFSA problems. They will only help students when they accumulate student debt and won't address the root of the problem: college is expensive.

wolf: You cover this issue. What do you wish more Americans knew about how the financial aid process works?

Lobosco: I think the problems we're seeing with the FAFSA this year highlight how complex our country's college financial aid system can be.

The cost of college is rarely transparent for families. Colleges and universities publish tuition prices and room and board costs – but these “sticker prices” are not typically paid by students and families. Only after they receive their financial aid award letters from colleges – which are most awaited right now – do they actually find out how much colleges are going to cost them for the next year.

wolf: The growth of student debt has been cited as a major issue and barrier to economic mobility, which is ironic since a college degree helps people improve their situation. What are some other interesting ideas about how to fix the system?

Lobosco: I can't say I've seen many new ideas gain popularity in Congress during my years covering this issue, because the left and the right generally disagree about the best approach.

Progressives such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have called for using public funds to make some college free – or, at least, subsidize the cost enough to cater to low- and moderate-income students. Do not have to take loan for this. His degree. Biden has proposed making two years of community college free.

A broader bill introduced by House Republicans includes a variety of provisions to address the cost of college, including: Making colleges pay when students can't repay their student loans — a policy known as “at-risk is called “sharing”; setting limits on how much students can borrow; And changing the way interest on federal student loans is capitalized.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.