College & Workforce Readiness

A FAFSA Calculation Error Could Delay College Aid Applications—Again

By Elizabeth Heubeck — March 22, 2024 2 min read
Jesus Noyola, a sophomore attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, poses for a portrait in the Folsom Library on Feb. 13, 2024, in Troy, N.Y. A later-than-expected rollout of a revised Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FASFA, that schools use to compute financial aid, is resulting in students and their parents putting off college decisions. Noyola said he hasn’t been able to submit his FAFSA because of an error in the parent portion of the application. “It’s disappointing and so stressful since all these issues are taking forever to be resolved,” said Noyola, who receives grants and work-study to fund his education.
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In an already tumultuous spring for students and families making decisions about college, the U.S. Department of Education on March 22 announced the latest blow to what was supposed to be an easier process for applying for financial aid.

The department said it had discovered an error in how the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, formula was calculated. The miscalculation means colleges and universities have received incorrect financial information for “several hundred thousand” applicants, according to the association that represents college and university financial aid officers.

The mistake affects FAFSA forms delivered to colleges and universities prior to March 21, the department said in its announcement. It will have to reprocess and resend those forms—further delaying colleges and universities from notifying students how much financial aid they will receive.

A statement from the Education Department says the problem won’t affect 1.3 million applications that were processed correctly and distributed to colleges this month. Officials said they have fixed the error and it “will not affect future records,” according to the Associated Press.

The development brought sharp criticism.

“At this stage in the game and after so many delays, every error adds up and will be felt acutely by every student who is counting on need-based financial aid to make their postsecondary dreams a reality,” Justin Draeger, the president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said in a statement. “As always, schools will work in good faith with our federal colleagues to get information to students as soon as possible, but let’s not make any mistake — schools can only work with valid and correct data that is provided to them from the U.S. Department of Education.”

College-bound students, high school counselors, college financial aid officers, and others relying on the routine processing of the FAFSA likely grew frustrated with this year’s form—branded by the Education Department as the “Better FAFSA”—well before this most recent blunder. Some of the major delays and glitches in the 2024-2025 FAFSA have included:

  • a months-long delayed launch of the new FAFSA;
  • extremely limited access to the online form in its early days;
  • multiple delays in the timeline the Education Department promised to release completed FAFSAs to colleges and universities; and
  • systemwide glitches that precluded students with a parent or guardian who don’t have a Social Security Number from completing the electronic form.

The department says those problems have been fixed, and it’s now rushing to process millions of student applications and send them to colleges and states. The agency says it has processed 1.5 million applications out of about 6 million received so far.

The department “will continue delivering large volumes” of records in the coming weeks, its statement said. “We remain focused on helping students and families through this process and supporting colleges produce aid offers as quickly as possible.”

The Associated Press, Wire Service contributed to this article.

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