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Biden's financial aid fiasco sets roadblocks for parents and students

OpinionBiden's financial aid fiasco sets roadblocks for parents and students

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Spring is often filled with great anticipation for high school seniors — from receiving acceptance letters to announcing their college decisions. But for the more than 17 million students who rely on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), their aspirations have been met with uncertainty.  

The Department of Education’s launch of the new FAFSA has put students and their families in limbo. With a delayed release date, software issues and a financial blunder, the department announced it wouldn’t process completed FAFSA applications and send them to schools until mid-March. High school seniors may have to wait anywhere from April to June to receive financial aid packages. 

Without a precise financial aid offer, it’s difficult for students to make their final decision about their college of choice by May 1 (which has typically been National Decision Day). This particularly impacts lower-income and first-generation students. FAFSA information enables higher education institutions to compile accurate student financial aid packages.  

US STUDENTS ARE PUTTING OFF COLLEGE DECISIONS DUE TO DELAY IN FINANCIAL AID APPLICATIONS

As a college president who is navigating through this issue, I understand the anxiety many students and their families are experiencing. For parents of high school seniors, here are five things I would encourage you to do concerning FAFSA. 

Why one college's enrollment is booming

17 million college students are caught trying to navigate delays in the FAFSA website, which slow the whole financial aid process.

1. Ask about grace periods 

Like students, higher education institutions are eager to receive FAFSA information. Due to the delay, schools can’t formulate financial aid awards, manage their enrollment and tuition models, and plan for various student needs. Overall, it shortens preparation time for schools and students for the 2024-25 academic year.  

To give students more time, many institutions have pushed back their commitment deadlines to June or suspended them indefinitely. Colleges require students to pay a deposit to secure their place. And for colleges that don’t change their due dates, it means students applying to several colleges may lose money.  

Encourage your student to reach out to their desired college(s) or visit their website to find out if there is a grace period before they make a deposit.  

2. Use the Net Price Calculator tool 

The cost to enroll is often the deciding factor for students. Higher education institutions understand that if they send financial aid packages without FAFSA data, it could result in serious inaccuracies — putting a higher financial burden on your student.  

While your student waits, there are tools (like a Net Price Calculator) that can give them an estimate of how much aid they may receive. Encourage your student to use this tool on each university’s website, as costs vary depending on the college.  

Keep in mind that the calculations are performed based on data from the prior award year. Each student has a unique situation, and the results will not be official calculations.  

3. Look into other aid 

Federal aid as a result of completing the FAFSA is not the only source of aid that can offset a student’s college expenses. Schools also provide scholarships and grants. There is a range of funds available including merit-based, field-of-study and athletic scholarships.  

Financial resources are also available outside the institution. Students can find scholarship applications online from nonprofit organizations, businesses and state financial aid opportunities and grants. 

Start by having your student reach out to their college’s financial aid office. Ask them what scholarships and grants are available. These may be accessible on the college’s website. Then have your student research any additional scholarships and grants online.  

Some highly selective colleges require students to fill out the College Board’s CSS Profile. Have your student look into this website to see if their college of choice is on the list so they can fill out the financial aid form.  

4. Evaluate the value of education 

Return on investment (ROI) is a critical component of a student’s decision on what college to attend. Students calculate how much the degree will cost and compare it to what they are projected to earn. While finances are important, there are other factors students should consider when it comes to their ROI.  

Think about the quality of education your student will receive. Ask your student to evaluate the degree they will be pursuing based on the courses, hands-on experience offered, the caliber of faculty, alumni stories and placement rate upon graduation. 

Without a precise financial aid offer, it’s difficult for students to make their final decision about their college of choice by May 1 (which has typically been National Decision Day). This particularly impacts lower-income and first-generation students. FAFSA information enables higher education institutions to compile accurate student financial aid packages.  

Another factor to consider is the culture of the university. I serve at a private faith-based university. One of the main reasons students attend our university is because of our Christian mission. After all, earning a degree is about helping your student become the best version of themselves.  

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5. Stay up to date with colleges 

Colleges understand the difficulties your student is encountering, and they are prepared to help you navigate them. Your student must stay up to date on communication from their college of choice — whether it’s frequenting their website, checking their emails or following their social media.  

At our university, we have a web page dedicated to providing information on the FAFSA situation. The page includes general FAFSA information, financial aid resources, scholarships available and contact information for financial aid officers. These details are also published on our social media and communicated via email.  

Remind your student that colleges are experiencing the same uncertainty. Have them ask questions and gather information. But try to extend grace to everyone they encounter.  

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Higher education institutions understand how taxing this situation is for students. We are committed to supporting their academic journey by providing grace periods and finding alternative financial aid options. Every student should have the same opportunity to attend the college of their choice without the fear of finances.  

The next time your student feels anxious, remind them that we are all in this together. Like much of the uncertainty we have experienced in the past few years, encourage them to keep moving toward their goals and learn to be flexible.  

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