Students are wondering if their college dreams will survive

ABC News

WASHINGTON — The last thing standing between Ashnaelle Bijoux and her college dream is the FAFSA form — a financial aid application that’s supposed to help students go to college, but is blocking her instead.
Normally a time of celebration for high school seniors, this spring has been marred by the federal government’s botched rollout of the new FAFSA application.
The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, went through a massive overhaul that was supposed to make it simpler and shorter.
If not, she might go to a local community college, but even that would require loans if she can’t complete the FAFSA.
But that’s not the case.” The updated FAFSA form has one section filled out by students and another by their parents.
Last week, Richard Cordray, the federal student loan chief who oversaw the FAFSA update, announced he’s stepping down at the end of June.
It’s used to determine eligibility for the federal Pell grant, a scholarship for low-income students, and it’s required to receive federal student loans.
Federal education officials say they’re addressing lingering bugs but making progress.

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Washington, DC — The last obstacle preventing Ashnaelle Bijoux from pursuing her dream of attending college is the FAFSA application, a financial aid tool meant to assist students in attending college but instead putting a roadblock in her path. She has made numerous attempts to turn it in. It always doesn’t get through.

According to 19-year-old Bijoux, “I feel overwhelmed and stressed out.”. Her last attempt at the form nearly brought her to tears. “I think something is holding me back. “.”.

This spring has been ruined by the federal government’s disastrous rollout of the new FAFSA application, which is usually a time of celebration for high school seniors. Students typically know where they will be attending college in the fall by May 1. Most haven’t gotten offers of financial aid this year yet. Many students have no idea where they will attend college or how they will pay for it three months before fall classes begin.

According to Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, “we’re asking them to make probably one of the biggest financial decisions—and decisions that will have the biggest implications on their lives going forward—without all of the information.”.

A significant redesign was conducted on the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, with the goal of making it easier to complete and shorter. However, the Education Department made a number of mistakes that made it more difficult than ever, causing college decisions to be delayed by months and escalating concerns that hundreds of thousands of students would completely forego college.

The National College Attainment Network reports that, nationwide, the percentage of students who successfully filed their FAFSA is down 29% from this time last year, and that the situation is worse at universities with a higher proportion of low-income students.

This month, Kim Cook, the group’s CEO, alerted Congress members to the possibility of a “catastrophic” decline in college enrollment that would make the pandemic’s declines appear minor.

Higher education holds great promise, but for Bijoux of Norwich, Connecticut, the FAFSA issues pose a threat.

Her mother immigrated to the United States from Haiti, so she saw college as an opportunity to take advantage of opportunities that she was not given. s. as an adult. In addition to becoming a therapist, Bijoux wants to be a good role model for her three younger brothers.

She should be qualified for sufficient financial aid to assist with the $13,000 annual tuition at Southern Connecticut State University if her FAFSA is accepted. If not, she might attend a nearby community college, but even there, loans would be necessary if she is unable to submit the FAFSA.

“It hurts because it feels like you’ve worked so hard to go somewhere, accomplish something, and establish yourself,” Bijoux remarked. “I assumed that I would work hard from the moment I started at a four-year college and continue to do so for the rest of my life. That is untrue, though. “.

Students must complete one section of the updated FAFSA form and their parents must complete another. However, Bijoux’s mother’s internet account remains empty after she completes her portion. Nothing appears to change despite her persistent efforts.

Along with a plethora of other bugs that the Education Department has been rushing to fix, similar issues have been reported nationwide. When families call customer service, they report hanging up on them or having to wait for a long time.

Counselor at Norwich Free Academy, where Bijoux attends, Anne Zinn, said that it “drains all the momentum” from families trying to send their kids to college, particularly those making their first foray into the process.

She remarked, “I can only tell them to be patient for so long before they give up and say, ‘Why am I doing this? I’m just going to go get a job.'”.

Republicans have requested an investigation into the rollout, which has drawn criticism from both political parties in Congress. The federal student loan chief who oversaw the FAFSA update, Richard Cordray, announced last week that he will be leaving his position at the end of June.

Delays are a serious risk for colleges as well.

Such projected declines in enrollment could force many small colleges to close their doors or force them to make significant staff reductions. The CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, Angel Pérez, stated that some colleges are requesting emergency assistance in order to survive.

According to Pérez, “they will not survive if they do not get checks from the federal government to basically get them through next year.”.

Financial aid for students has relied heavily on the FAFSA for many years. Federal student loans must be obtained with it, and it’s used to assess eligibility for the Pell grant, a low-income student scholarship. The FAFSA is also used by states and colleges to award their own scholarships.

Families without college experience had long been accused of finding the FAFSA to be burdensome, challenging, and frightening. In 2020, Congress passed laws aimed at streamlining the form. The directive directed the Education Department to modify the formula in order to increase the number of students eligible for aid and decrease the number of questions from over 100 to approximately 40.

Once the new form went live in December, months after it was supposed to, issues began to mount.

The initial applications were processed erroneously by applying an antiquated inflation calculation. Subsequently, on more than 200,000 applications, a federal contractor computed an incorrect formula. Students had to wait longer to learn about financial assistance as a result of each error that caused delays.

More concerning is an error that prevented students with parents who do not have Social Security numbers from completing the application. Supporters claim that hundreds of thousands of US students were locked out of the system. s. whose parents are not citizens or permanent residents.

Parents will have an additional option to manually enter their tax information, according to a Tuesday announcement from the Education Department. However, some students claimed that they were still unable to submit the form as recently as this week.

Although there are still issues to be fixed, federal education officials report that they are making headway. According to the organization, more than 8 million student applications have already been completed and forwarded to colleges, and new applications are being processed every three days.

The wait is still very much ongoing. School preparation for financial aid offers typically takes several weeks. Some universities have extended the time for making decisions so that students have more time to consider their options. However, some adhered to the May 1 deadline, compelling students to select a college and pay a nonrefundable deposit to secure their spot without being aware of all of their scholarship options.

Camryn Carter is waiting in Baltimore to hear if he will be eligible for full scholarship to the University of Maryland or if he will have to pay back tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.

With a stellar academic record and leadership qualities in both baseball and wrestling, Carter views college as a next step in his life. He reflects on the occasions when he had to return things to the shelf in the grocery store line because his mother was unable to pay the bill. According to the 18-year-old, a college degree would provide him with the stability he hasn’t always had.

However, he finds tuition to be intimidating. He’s thinking about attending the private McDaniel College in Maryland in addition to Maryland. He plans to borrow approximately $30,000 annually if he enrolls there.

To ensure a bright future for himself, he stated, “I try to make the best decisions now.”. I have some anxiety that things won’t work out. I am devoted, though. “.

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