The U.S. Department of Education said Monday it will roll out more technical support to help students and colleges deal with problems and delays caused by the release of a new version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
The new FAFSA form, meant to streamline the financial aid application, was launched three months later than in a typical school year. The Education Department had planned to share data from completed FAFSAs in late January but pushed back that timeline to the first half of March, about two months later than planned. These delays mean colleges have a shorter window to turn around financial aid packages for Texas’ estimated 1.6 million college students.
To help with the processing of financial aid packages, federal officials on Monday announced it would deploy financial aid experts to “lower-resourced” colleges and historically Black universities, like Prairie View A&M University or Texas Southern University, that request the help.
In addition, about $50 million will be earmarked to help fund the operations of nonprofits specializing in financial aid support. It’s unclear how the agency will identify which nonprofits will receive these funds.
Federal officials will also release mock versions of student FAFSA data within the next two weeks to help financial aid offices prepare to assemble aid packages.
Completing the FAFSA is the single best way to access federal, state and school aid for college. The Texas high school class of 2022 missed out on $390 million in Pell Grant money by not completing the FAFSA. The Texas priority deadline to complete the FAFSA is March 15, though state financial aid experts are encouraging students to complete the form earlier.
The Education Department had already been offering assistance through its FAFSA hotline. But Texas students told The Texas Tribune they have struggled to get ahold of an operator — even more so if they needed a Spanish-speaking agent.
The difficulties with the hotline are in part why federal officials are providing more technical support, said Richard Cordray, the head of the U.S. Education Department’s Federal Student Aid, which oversees FAFSA.
The agency is also encouraging schools to push their college decision deadlines, Cordray added. For most Texas 4-year universities, applicants must decide where to enroll by May 1.
“It would help take some of the pressure off of families,” Cordray said. “To the extent schools are interested in doing that, we would encourage that.”
The Department of Education is still trying to resolve glitches that have shut some students out of form altogether, like an error that does not allow parents without a Social Security number to add their financial information. Cordray said resolving the glitch is a high priority for the agency and that a fix will come in this month.