By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter
In a letter to Richard Cordray, the chief operating officer at the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA), NASFAA raised concerns about repeated and increasing reports of technological challenges that are impacting the FAFSA filing process for students and parents.
Along with the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), and the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs (NASSGAP), the groups highlighted issues raised by their respective memberships, notably the loss of information entered as the online application has been freezing or forcing students and parents to log out when attempting to complete the form.
There have also been numerous reports of miscellaneous error messages appearing for users, malfunctions with the FSA ID and IRS Data Retrieval Tool, and glitches when attempting to use the signature page. Taken together, the problems are creating unnecessary obstacles, an especially troubling notion considering the steep declines in FAFSA completion rates amid the coronavirus pandemic, the letter asserts.
The issues have been compounded by lengthy call center wait times, according to the letter. One staff member at an organization that signed on to the letter reported a 37-minute wait time.
“These delays are not mere inconveniences. Students are frequently filing the FAFSA at FAFSA night workshops or during appointments with college advisors, financial aid administrators, or school counselors,” the letter states. “If the student encounters an error and must wait on hold 30 minutes before being able to address it, it is likely that the student may have to abandon the process all together.”
Considering the 2022-23 award year FAFSA application window has been open for weeks and staff from NASFAA and the other organizations have submitted these concerns to FSA staff and the problems persist, the letter urges FSA to take immediate action.
“The need for a permanent resolution to these problems is paramount,” the letter adds. “There is no time to spare given the decision making happening at kitchen tables over the holidays.”
The higher education organizations are asking FSA to ensure the FAFSA is fully functioning to support state priority aid deadlines, some of which are as soon as January 1. The letter also calls on FSA to ensure the call center is fully staffed to meet metrics outlined in FSA’s strategic plan, and recommends more frequent data checks on abandonment rates for started FAFSAs and completed FAFSAs.
Notably, the letter also asks FSA to create a separate help center for advisors, financial aid administrators, and counselors who are working to support students and parents toward completing the FAFSA.
Publication Date: 11/24/2021