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 glitches may prevent many low-income and first-generation students from attending college this fall

The Financial Aid Office extended the FAFSA deadline to give students more time to fill out the buggy forms (photo courtesy SRJC Financial Aid Office).

FAFSA glitches may prevent many low-income and first-generation students from attending college this fall 


Bugs and glitches continue to plague the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) released late in December 2023. Colleges lack complete financial aid information for all students, which prevents them from providing accurate financial aid offers to incoming and continuing students. For Santa Rosa Junior College students, that means that they still don’t know how much financial aid they will receive in the fall.


Last week, the Department of Education (DOE) announced that about 20% of the applications are affected by the incorrect tax data.


In reality, the errors impact a much larger percentage of the forms. In two separate Senate hearings Wednesday on Capitol Hill, Education Secretary Miguel A. Cardona explained what was happening and affirmed that the DOE is working tirelessly on fixing the remaining FAFSA bugs. According to Justin Draeger, the chief executive of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, one hearing focused on the problems with the updated FAFSA, which may render 40% of the financial records useless, in an article published in The New York Times.


Because of this high error rate, the SRJC financial aid office will wait until the DOE releases the FAFSA data with the correct information, Rachael Cutcher, director of Student Financial Support and Services, said that because of this high error rate, the SRJC financial aid office will wait until the DOE releases the FAFSA data with the correct information. Some colleges are sending “provisional” offer letters, but most colleges nationwide will wait for the corrected data so that they can provide accurate offers.


Last year, the Department of Education made changes to the online form, which set the release date back from Oct. 1 to December 29. Once it was released, computer bugs created more delays for students and families attempting to submit their applications. These bugs continue to prevent students from making corrections to their FAFSA submission that, under normal circumstances, they could make within a few days. 


Subsequently, the department released financial information late to the colleges, in mid-March, as opposed to January. And even then, the information trickled in slowly, with much of it error-riddled.


“The launch of the FAFSA Simplification Act and the ‘Better FAFSA’ has been bumpy to say the least,” Cutcher said.


The FAFSA Simplification Act, effective for the 2024-2025 academic year, introduced four significant changes intended to streamline the form submission process. These changes introduced a new method for analyzing a family’s financial needs; refined the definition of family size to better align with the information on their tax forms; expanded access to Pell Grants; and mandated that the Federal Student Aid Office use information that they receive directly from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).


The product of this act, the ‘Better FAFSA,’ is “simplified, redesigned, and simplified,” according to the DOE website.  


However, in the final stages of the financial aid application process, glitches in the program continue to prevent some families from submitting their application.


“Most significantly, students from “mixed-status” families are seeing the largest barrier to submission,” Cutcher said. Earlier in the bug-fixing process, students whose parents do not have a social security number were blocked from submitting their forms. The department supposedly fixed this glitch, but students in mixed-status families still experience difficulties filling out their applications.


These students are encouraged to call the FAFSA helpline (1-800-433-3243) and to access the FAFSA Fast News for any updates, such as Spanish-language webinars and direct outreach to students and families. However, Callers will hear a recorded message informing them, in English or Spanish, that the office “is receiving a historically high number of calls at this time,” before the line automatically hangs up.


“[The Federal Student Aid Office] is working to correct this problem, but not in a timely enough manner for students intending to transfer to a four-year school,” Cutcher said.


The Financial Aid Office encourages anyone encountering difficulties submitting their FAFSA to come in as soon as possible for support and resources (photo courtesy SRJC Financial Aid Office).

At SRJC, the Financial Aid Office has been working with prospective and current students and their families to help them navigate this labyrinth riddled with dead ends. To help high schoolers and SRJC students, the office has held over 70 “Cash for College” events, an

“unprecedented number,” Cutcher said.


The Federal Student Aid Office hopes that schools will have all of the corrected data by the end of April. But what’s really lacking is “an application that reliably works for all students,” Cutcher said.


At SRJC, it is still too early to know exactly how this will impact students transferring to 4-year colleges, who may have to defer their transfer for financial reasons. 

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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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