FAFSA form glitches delay seniors, parents

Posted 2/14/24

It was supposed to be easier.

The number of questions on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form were reduced from 106 to 36. And this has surely expedited the process for …

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FAFSA form glitches delay seniors, parents


It was supposed to be easier.

The number of questions on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form were reduced from 106 to 36. And this has surely expedited the process for Cranston senior Zaied Tanbaki who has submitted applications at URI and PC. However, Thursday afternoon Tanbaki was seated in front of Erin DeMaggio, educational counselor at the Rhode Island College Planning Center at Chapel View in Cranston.

“It was so fast I wanted to know if I did it right,” he said. DeMaggio assured him that he had successfully completed his piece of the process.

But there’s more to successfully completing and filing the form than answering 36 questions. What has been described as glitches in the revised program to help increase access to federal Pell grants have gummed up things to the point where according to The Wall Street Journal, financial aid packages may not go out until after the date students are normally expected to make deposits. This leaves students and parents questioning whether they should hold out on accepting an admissions offer.

Charles Kelley, executive director of the Rhode Island Student Loan Authority that oversees the College Planning Center reported as of last week the center had processed more than 700 applications, whereas by the end of February the center will have usually completed between 1,500 and 1,800 applications. Over the year the center processes about 4,000 applications.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 700,000 seniors completed applications by late January, as compared to about 1.5 million for the same period last year.

Kelley said during the pandemic the center switched from in-person to over the phone consultations. The center increasingly relies on phone assistance as the website hasn’t been able to keep up with the volume, he said. To provide answers and ease anxiety, the center is open for appointments seven hours a day, seven days a week. In addition, the center is on the road several times a year with events where students and parents can get assistance and information. The next event is Feb. 27 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Cumberland High School. Reservations are not required.

On the firing line

Center director Stacy Crooks said the center gets about 50 calls a day from people who can’t electronically sign their forms, make corrections and need to be walked through the process. Usually the process starts in October and applicants have until the end of January to file forms. This year forms were not available until the end of December and now, says Crooks, information won’t get to schools until mid-March. Because of the lag, some schools have already pushed back the date for deposits from May 1 to June 1, which will give students more time to compare offers.

“This is the roughest year for filling out financial aid forms … It has been really tough on parents,” she said. She added, that since the “soft launch” of the new system, which was designed to make things easier, there have been technical issues. Previously, students and parents submitted a single form, but now they do it independently of one another.

Crooks, who has been working at the College Planning Center for 25 years, had this advice for students and parents: “Hang tight and it will resolve itself.”

FAFSA, college, form


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