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Despite Federal Aid Backlog, Colleges Retain Deadline

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Although delays in the processing of federal student-aid forms are causing headaches for colleges, a new survey has found that fewer than a quarter of admissions officials want to push back the traditional date by which students must accept or decline a school's offer to enroll, which includes a financial-aid offer.

According to the Alexandria, Va.-based National Association for College Admission Counseling, only 23 percent of its surveyed members favor pushing back the May 1 deadline, while 32 percent want to commit to that date and 43 percent called for holding off on making a decision.

"What the survey told us is our members are extremely reluctant to move May 1," said Kevin D. Keeley, the group's executive director.

The survey showed that respondents have confidence in the U.S. Department of Education's ability to process the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, Mr. Keeley said, and in financial-aid departments' ability to move that information "in a timely fashion."

The Education Department has blamed its processing backlog on federal government shutdowns, snowstorms, and technical glitches over the winter. Many college officials feared that the delay would disrupt their own schedules for making financial-aid offers to students and receiving student responses. (See Education Week, March 13, 1996.)

As of last week, the department had processed 79 percent of the 2.8 million applications that had been submitted. The department should get back on schedule by April 15, according to a spokeswoman.

Many colleges, determined to keep on track for May 1, are working overtime to ensure that students have their offers in hand.

Debate Over Deadline

Roanoke College in Salem, Va., for example, has hired extra help to process student-aid reports, and the entire financial-aid and admissions staffs there are working from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. two nights a week to answer questions on a student-aid hot line.

"We don't want to change the May 1 deadline--that is something important for students and for colleges," said Mike Maxey, the vice president for college relations at the 1,750-student private college. "Once you let go of that, everybody loses."

Robert McCann, the associate dean of admissions at Colgate University, a 2,800-student private college in Hamilton, N.Y., agreed that changing the May 1 deadline "would create a lot of havoc."

But Colgate, like some other schools, has not experienced any delays because it requires students to file both the FAFSA and the PROFILE form, a financial-aid form processed by the New York City-based College Scholarship Service, a subsidiary of the nonprofit College Board. The PROFILE form provided enough information for Colgate to determine its aid awards, Mr. McCann said.

Still, a handful of schools have already opted to give students more time to make a decision. At Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va., college officials have moved their acceptance deadline to May 15.

Although the 3,000-student public college anticipates making its offers on time, Jenifer L. Blair, the associate dean of admissions, said, "we still feel it's critical that students have the time to make a decision."

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