Colleges and universities must step up to counteract financial aid form delays


Cal Poldy SLO campus and students

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Credit: Ashley Bolter / EdSource

In any given year, planning for higher education and applying for financial aid is a complicated, overwhelming and time-consuming process for families.

This year, amid an extensive list of changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, application and processing delays, and the growing list of glitches and issues with the application, submitting the FAFSA by the deadline for priority admission to California state universities may seem like an impossible task.

Parents and families that our organization has worked with and surveyed in this application cycle are frustrated. And, with so much at stake for their students, they want to know: “Given all the delays with the FAFSA, will students have a longer time to decide which school to go to next year?”

We think they should.

The experiences of the families we connected with are consistent with what we are seeing nationwide. A National College Attainment Network analysis found that FAFSA submissions for the class of 2024 lag behind last year’s senior class by 42%. Even if families are able to submit an application, institutions won’t be able to create financial aid packages until early April, six weeks later than previously announced, and four months later than is typical.

These delays are more than an inconvenience.

Delays and technical issues with the application will have the most significant impact on the students who need financial aid the most. Students of color, students from mixed-status families, first-generation college students, students experiencing homelessness, and students in the foster care system are more likely to experience difficulty accessing financial aid, or completing their applications at all. Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced a resolution to a problem that was halting the application process for students with parents without a social security number, giving those students less than three weeks to submit their applications.

Policymakers and advocates across the country have offered various proposals to ensure that students and families have ample time to make an informed decision about higher education. Over 100 members of Congress urged Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to provide clarity and “minimize the potential impact” of the issues with the FAFSA.

California state legislators are currently debating a one-month extension for state financial aid. The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association released recommendations for states given the delay in Institutional Student Information Records. The National College Attainment Network and nine other organizations have called for the extension of university commitment and scholarship deadlines.

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced it would relax requirements for colleges and universities in order to allow more time for getting financial aid packages to families. However, this alone is not enough to ensure that students across the country have access to the money they need to attend college.

Institutions of higher education must be proactive and support students and families to access the financial aid they deserve. Colleges and universities should delay commitment and scholarship deadlines to June 1 to allow families enough time to compare financial aid packages and decide which university is right for them.

The FAFSA Simplification Act was designed to make financial aid more accessible to students across the country. Let’s not penalize the students and families who are essentially beta testers this year. We must do all we can to remove as many obstacles as possible for students and keep our promise of simplifying the financial aid process for this class and every class to follow.

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Darcel Sanders is CEO of GO Public Schools, a nonprofit organization working with families to advocate for the equitable public education of underserved students in California. She previously served as legislative director for state Sen. Carol Liu and earlier worked as a middle school teacher in Oakland.

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.





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