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FAFSA delays cause financial uncertainty among Missouri students


For many students, the excitement of deciding where to attend college is being met with concern over whether they’ll receive the financial aid they need. This year, FAFSA delays have left guidance counselors, students and administrators wondering whether financial aid offers will be received before deciding where to go for college.

“If I fill out the FAFSA now, my information is only getting sent in May,” said Lindsey Brink, a senior at Battle High School. “I’m supposed to be registering for orientation and doing all those things.”

FAFSA, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is usually launched on Oct. 1, but last year the U.S Department of Education announced that the application would be available on Dec. 31.

This was due to a bumpy rollout of a new, simplified FAFSA form mandated by Congress in 2020, according to Federal Student Aid. The overhauls were intended to make the application easier and expand access with fewer questions, allowing users to transfer tax data directly from filed IRS forms and make more students from low-income backgrounds eligible for more aid. However, some changes to the application unintentionally made the process more challenging.

The U.S. Department of Education announced that since the form went live, fewer than five million forms have been submitted so far. That’s a fraction of the almost 18 million forms previously submitted by students during the 2020 to 2021 application cycle, according to Federal Student Aid data.

Keri Gilbert, director of financial aid at Stephens College, said not many students have been filing the FAFSA and the steep decline is “concerning.”

“We do know that nationally, FAFSA filing is down about 42%, and in the state of Missouri, it’s down about 38%. So, we know that not as many students are filing the FAFSA,” Gilbert said. “That could absolutely end up impacting all across the nation how many students end up going to college next year.”

Melissa Patterson, a college and career counselor at Battle High School, worries that underrepresented populations will be disproportionately affected financially.

“We have a population of first-generation students that are underrepresented, and the FAFSA is really how they can pay for school,” she said. “The delays in processing the application have really caused a lot of anxiety for our students.”

On top of causing uncertainty, they’ve also had trouble filling out the form. Some students had trouble understanding the wording of certain questions, getting in touch with the FAFSA help center and making changes or edits on completed forms.

“I have not had any students successfully reach the FAFSA support by phone,” said Anna McMillen, director of counseling at Douglass High School. “You call, it goes through a menu, and then it tells you, ‘We are experiencing higher than normal call volumes, please try again later,’ and hangs up on you. There isn’t even an option to wait in line on hold or get a return call.”

Students with parents who don’t have Social Security numbers are also having trouble receiving financial aid. They are able to submit the form without their parents’ information but are later required to go back and edit that information before actually receiving aid.

“It is very complex and complicated, and they have not announced necessarily when the actual fix in the FAFSA form will be available for those students,” Gilbert said.

Patterson emphasized that better communication from Federal Student Aid would have been “helpful.”

“The process as far as what students need to do, being able to make changes, that kind of thing, that was not communicated very well,” she said. “That’s something we just kind of find out when you start filling out the application.”

Christian Basi, university spokesperson at MU, said the FAFSA delays will not impact university operations such as housing, parking, orientation and scheduling of events. Currently, deposits for the upcoming school year are up 9% over the same time last year, according to a Monday email to the MU community.

“The only thing the FAFSA is impacting is our and every other universities’ ability to get out to students their financial aid packages for the upcoming year prior to our deposit deadline, so that those students can make a decision on where they want to go to school,” Basi said.

Students and families can access the net price calculator to get a personalized estimation of their financial aid to attend Mizzou.

Emmalee Djerf, a psychology major at Stephens College, said she’s worried about the possible amount of student loans that she has to take out with the delays.

“I already have several loans from being here in my undergraduate,” Djerf said, “so I’m hoping for something that would reduce the amount if I did need to take a loan out.”

While Djerf said students are in limbo over these delays, it’s important to not put blame on college financial aid offices.

“Students I’ve talked to on campus or heard about online, they’re really struggling because they don’t know when they’ll receive the information from the school because of the delay, and (it’s) causing kind of an uprise within students,” Djerf said. “So, I just hope that financial aid offices aren’t flooded with tension towards them because it’s not something they can handle themselves.”