Panel Highlights Concerns and Impacts of Delays in the FAFSA Timeline

By Maria Carrasco, NASFAA Staff Reporter

As many institutions begin sending out financial aid offers after a delayed rollout of the 2024-25 FAFSA, a panel on Thursday discussed how the higher education community got here, as well as the implications that this year’s FAFSA rollout has had for both students and institutions. 

The panel, hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was led by AEI’s Beth Akers, and included Karen McCarthy, NASFAA’s vice president of public policy and federal relations, Mark Kantrowitz, president of Cerebly, and AEI’s Michael Brickman. The conversation began with background on all the issues that have plagued the 2024-25 FAFSA – from a delayed launch date of late December, technical glitches, and a delayed delivery of Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs). 

McCarthy explained aid offer timelines in typical years, and explained how this year’s rollout – caused by glitches, technical issues, and delays – has created a significant time crunch for financial aid offices, who are now expected to do months of work in a much tighter time frame. 

“The starting line was really delayed, but the finish line, which is the start of the typical academic year in late August or September, hasn't moved,” McCarthy said. “Institutions [and] families have less time to make their enrollment decisions, continuing students will receive their aid offers probably later than in a normal year. So everybody, from the institutions to the students and families, will feel that delay as we lead up to the 2024-25 year.”

Kantrowitz said that because of the stress of FAFSA simplification, some financial aid professionals are thinking of leaving the profession. He pointed to a new report from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) and NASFAA that found over 50% of financial aid professionals were likely to seek other employment opportunities within the next year. 

Kantrowitz noted that because of these issues, the number of students who have submitted the FAFSA now, compared to the same time last year, is down by more than 2 million, and some families still can’t even complete the form. Additionally, issues with the FAFSA that remain unresolved are already causing concern for next year’s rollout.

“The process, despite the Department of Education (ED) putting on rose-colored glasses and saying ‘all as well’ while they rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, is still sinking,” Kantrowitz  said. “We're starting to worry about next year when we’re supposed to start filing the 2025-26 FAFSA on October 1 of this year. They haven't even started that process.” 

The conversation further explored concerns with the upcoming implementation of the 2025-26 FAFSA. 

Earlier this month, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a Senate subcommittee hearing that it is ED’s expectation that the 2025-26 FAFSA will launch on October 1. 

McCarthy shared her concerns with possible issues and delays for the 2025-26 FAFSA, specifically that ED will not fix minor issues with the FAFSA – such as rewording questions that confused students on the form. Rather, she said, ED could decide to just focus on major issues that prevent students from completing the FAFSA due to  the time crunch. 

“We are so late, we're already well into what would normally be the development cycle for 2025-26,” McCarthy said. “I fear that some of the smaller issues that are troublesome, but not showstoppers, might not end up getting resolved for 2025-26, just because they now have such a shorter runway.”

Kantrowitz pointed out that the department last year posted the 2023-24 draft FAFSA in February 2022, and the 2024-25 draft FAFSA was posted in March 2023. This year, ED has yet to release a draft FAFSA for 2025-26.  

“It's going to be a delayed process,” Kantrowitz said. “My guess is they’re not going to have a public comment period. They're just going to do the updates, and hope it all works.”

 

Publication Date: 5/13/2024


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