A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

FAFSA Updates Result in More Delays

Courtesy of Santa Rosa Junior College
An additional four to six-week delay faces students who have already submitted their FAFSA for 2024-2025 academic year.

Santa Rosa Junior College students will have to wait an extra four to six weeks for financial aid packages this year due to a delay in the Department of Education (DOE) providing the appropriate data to colleges and universities.

In a Jan. 30 press release the DOE said it will release the financial data to schools in mid-March, not late January as earlier promised. 

At SRJC, the delayed financial aid packages will impact 42% of students who have already submitted their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2023-2024 academic year. 

“I was devastated. Devastated,” Rachael Cutcher, director of SRJC student financial support and services said. “I almost cried, because I know how significant these delays are to not just Santa Rosa Junior College students, but students throughout the U.S.”

Typically, schools receive financial aid data from the DOE in January, which allows colleges and universities to send their financial aid offers to students at that time. On this timeline, students have time to weigh their options based on the financial aid offers they receive from multiple colleges or universities. For continuing SRJC students, the wait creates financial uncertainty. For students transferring to a four-year college or university, the delayed financial packages may limit their college choices.

This new delay will add four to six weeks to the waiting period, possibly affecting over 17 million students who submit FAFSA annually, according to the DOE 2023-2024 annual report. Students and families may not receive their financial aid offers until mid-March, leaving little time for students to assess their options before college commitment deadlines in early May.

The delay also compounds earlier problems that pushed the FAFSA from its typical opening Oct. 1 until the end of December as well as additional glitches and delays after that, Cutcher said. This resulted in overwhelming demand that made it difficult for students to log in, and it continues to cause problems for certain populations, especially students with undocumented parents.

For financial aid offices already juggling delays and glitches, the newly delayed release date felt like a slap in the face to financial aid officers and students. “The end of January came and they said, ‘Just kidding,’” Cutcher said.

The department failed to release the FAFSA on time because it is in the process of fixing a $1.8 billion mistake, which, if left unfixed, would hurt low-income students.

The updates were essential, according to the DOE. The specific changes improved the supporting information that takes inflation into account. Inflation levels have fluctuated widely since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, impacting students’ and families’ finances. The updates will give students access to an additional $1.8 billion in aid intended to support low-income students and families.

Despite these setbacks, the department announced that more than 3.1 million applications were successfully uploaded in the first month following the FAFSA’s redesign and new 24/7 accessibility. 

And, in what may be an attempt to mitigate students’ and families’ frustration, the DOE announced Monday that it would hire more financial aid experts to help colleges and universities  prepare and process the financial aid forms. The department will also pay for technical assistance and additional support from non-profits that offer financial aid services for colleges with fewer resources, including tribal and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Finally, the department will provide tools to help colleges process the financial aid packages more quickly once they receive the FAFSA data in mid-March.

The DOE took a similar approach during the record-breaking wildfires in recent years, by funding non-profits to provide additional support to financial aid offices at rural, smaller campuses. “I think it really helped them to continue to serve their students while also providing the care for their staff who were also suffering traumatic loss,” Cutcher said. 

She encourages students to reach out to the financial aid office with any questions. “We’re on this ride together,” she said. The financial aid team can help students plan for different scenarios based on prior information. It’s stressful, she acknowledged, especially for students transferring to four-year institutions. 

SRJC students who have questions should make an appointment to meet with a financial aid counselor, or to stop by the Financial Aid Fun Fair (there will be snacks) between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Valentine’s Day at the Plover Open House. “We want to make this transition as easy as possible,” Cutcher said.

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About the Contributor
Amy Moore
Amy Moore, Reporter
Amy Moore is in her first semester at The Oak Leaf. She has published poetry, essays, and science articles.

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