FAFSA delays put pressure on College and students

Changes to the FAFSA will push back its release this year

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The 2024 Presidential Election will be the first that many Muhlenberg students will be eligible to vote in. Photo by Photo Editor Kira Bretsky '27.

If you have applied to college in the United States after 1965, you are likely to have filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is a government form used by both prospective and current students to calculate financial aid eligibility. On Dec. 30, 2023, the US Department of Education released a new version of this application, pioneered by the Biden administration through a bipartisan law passed in Congress in 2020. In addition to providing loan forgiveness for HBCUs and restoring Pell Grants for incarcerated individuals, the law was also meant to streamline the FAFSA process. 

However, this process has become anything but streamlined. A plan that was meant to limit the number of total questions on the form and simplify the formula used to calculate federal aid has been plagued with delays and glitches. Now, colleges will have to wait until mid-March to receive students’ FAFSA information. Typically colleges would receive this information at the beginning of the year. Now, institutions are working to find ways to present accepted students with their aid packages as soon as possible. 

Vice President for Enrollment Management Megan Ryan shed some light on how these delays are affecting the College. She noted, “In previous years, an accepted student who had successfully submitted their FAFSA would get a financial aid offer the day they learned about their acceptance to Muhlenberg. This year it requires a little more back and forth with accepted students.” Accepted students will receive their letter of admission as well as their merit-based aid, however, their need-based aid will not arrive in this initial package. 

One of the ways that the College is adjusting to this delay lies in the Student Aid Index (SAI). This refers to a score that students get after filling out that calculates an estimated amount of federal aid that they will receive. Ryan stated that “while we wait for those official records to come to us, accepted students can provide a copy of their submission confirmation that includes the SAI. We then use that information to provide the accepted student with an estimated financial aid offer.” 

 In regards to how Muhlenberg is communicating with prospective students about these roadblocks, Ryan says that “We have hosted several webinars to help families understand these changes and our updated process for this year. We also sent applicants information about next steps along with our commitment to helping them through the process.” 

In light of these difficulties, the federal government has decided to ease some requirements. According to Inside Higher Ed, these changes to requirements include the Department of Education “reduc[ing] the proportion of financial aid forms it reviews for potential inaccuracy, suspend[ing] all new reviews of colleges’ compliance with financial aid rules and offer[ing] institutions flexibility in their applications to renew their eligibility to access federal financial aid programs.” 

These delays have shifted timelines for all American higher education institutions, with some even pushing back enrollment deadlines. Muhlenberg, however, has decided to not take this route. Explaining this decision, Assistant Director of Financial Aid Jessica Keller said, “Our enrollment team hasn’t decided on pushing back any dates as of yet. That’s obviously still a conversation that we’re having, just to see kind of where the land lies when we do start receiving FAFSAs. A lot of it kind of depends on this effect of: will we see them (the FAFSAs) in a lump sum or will they kind of trickle in slowly?” 

Prospective students are not the only individuals who are affected by these delays, current students are also facing the consequences. Keller stated the current students shouldn’t rush to complete the FAFSA and instead hold off until around mid-March to give the Financial Aid Office time to address the forms in groups, handling prospective students first, followed by current students. Keller said, “The only impact I think it would have in [terms of] timelines is that current students might not see their aid packages, as soon as they would have seen them in prior years. We’re hoping that by early summer, we can have everything sorted so that students can log on to their financial aid portal and be able to see those offers reflective of the changes that were made for the FAFSA form.”

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