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Student college decisions delayed because of rushed FAFSA changes

Iraj Zia

The new Free Application for Federal Student Aid was launched on Dec. 30 after a three-month delay. The updated form has some new great features, however, as users attempted to access the website, they encountered glitches and college decision dilemmas.

The current launch felt rushed. It would have been better to wait another year for the complete experience of a polished website, rather than trying to fix the issues on the go as users are accessing the soft launch program.

During the 116th Congress session nearly three years ago, the then-Secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, introduced the Simplified FAFSA Act to ensure a more user-friendly experience of the website amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The bill aimed to make it easier to apply for federal aid and consequently increase accessibility.

Tax information for the form will now be sent directly from the IRS, decreasing the number of questions on the form. As a result, the estimated completion time is now under an hour. For some users, depending on their income status, it can take about 15 minutes to fully complete the application.

The updated FAFSA website uses a new student aid calculator that raises the eligibility standards, granting students a higher Pell Grant amount. Instead of calling it an expected family contribution, the new form provides a student index number as a reference for the applicant’s financial aid offer.

Lastly, the FAFSA application will have translation services to 11 languages, immensely supporting multilingual households. In the past, the form was only available for English and Spanish-speaking persons. The accessibility feature will help many first and second-generation students who must support their parents in filling out the form and translating the questions.

Although the updates sound great in theory, users report issues with the form. The flawed launch, disturbance in the college process timeline and lack of sibling discounts will have a detrimental impact on students’ college choices.

Up to 67% of college freshmen in 2019 indicated the cost of attendance as a “very important” factor in their college decisions. It is currently unclear how long colleges will take to send out financial packets to the applicants. However, students who applied as early action/decision and received their admission offers are awaiting their financial awards.

Many students worry about the updated FAFSA eliminating the sibling discount. In the earlier versions, the student aid calculator considered if a family had multiple kids attending college at the same time. For each additional kid in college, a family received a 5% deduction from tuition.

The lack of a sibling discount will negatively impact many families. This change resembles the concept of a poverty trap, where if a person makes slightly over the qualifying income for the aid, they are left paying more than they can afford to.

While 5% may seem like a minor deduction, it makes a large difference for low and middle-class families with multiple kids in college.

Most of the student population has yet to see how the new student aid calculator will impact their financial aid eligibility. Hopefully, the results will not reflect the incomplete experience of the application.

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Iraj Zia, Photography Editor
Iraj Zia is the Photography Editor for The Ticker.
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