Why a Fafsa Tool's Continued Outage Hits Community Colleges So Hard

"By the time an online tool that helps students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid was taken down in early March, the users who typically get the most public attention –– incoming freshmen going to selective four-year colleges –– were largely done applying for aid," The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. "So the Trump administration's plan to get the Internal Revenue Service's data-retrieval tool up and running again might seem timely enough."

"The administration took the tool offline over fraud concerns and has pledged that it will be back online for Fafsa filers in October — when the next aid-application cycle begins — and later this month for borrowers in income-driven-repayment plans. (On Sunday, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education reported on the case of a private investigator in Louisiana who is accused of using the tool illegally in an effort to obtain President Trump’s tax records.)

But the timeline of the Education Department’s fix is 'leaving out of the picture the students who are most vulnerable,' says Kelly A. Morrissey, director of financial aid at Mount Wachusett Community College, in Massachusetts. For students at institutions like hers, aid-application season has barely begun, and the tool’s continued outage presents special challenges. Here’s why:

Students make plans later.

For community colleges, the admissions cycle does not end on May 1, the familiar decision day for students attending four-year colleges. Instead, students go through the cycle right until classes begin, which happens at multiple points throughout the year.

That, of course, affects the rhythms of the financial-aid office. Like a lot of community colleges, Des Moines Area Community College, for example, usually sees two spikes in Fafsa filings, says Ean Freels, its financial-aid director. One of those is shortly after the application goes live — during this cycle, that happened in October, because of the introduction of the 'Early Fafsa.' The other wave doesn’t come until the summer.

At Anne Arundel Community College, in Maryland, 70 percent of incoming students apply for admission in July and August, says Rich Heath, the financial-aid director. The college encourages students to apply earlier, he says, but many simply don’t have their plans made until closer to the start of classes. And most people don't complete the famously onerous form until they are at least pretty sure they're going to college.

'The months of June, July, and August are the heaviest' from a financial-aid standpoint, Mr. Heath says."

NASFAA's "Headlines" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.

 

Publication Date: 5/24/2017

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