Thousands of financial aid applications need to be corrected after latest error

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Department of Education said it discovered a calculation error in hundreds of thousands of student financial aid applications sent to colleges this month and will need to reprocess them, an error that follows a series of others and threat More delays in college applications this year..

A provider working for the federal government incorrectly calculated a financial aid formula for more than 200,000 students, the department said Friday. The information was sent to the universities to help them. prepare financial aid packages but now it needs to be recalculated, even as the department works through a backlog of more than 4 million other financial aid applications.

A statement from the Department of Education says the issue will not affect 1.3 million applications that were successfully processed and distributed to colleges this month. Officials said they fixed the error and it “will not affect future registrations.”

It is unlikely that many, if any, students received financial aid offers based on incorrect information, as the department only began sending records in the last two weeks. Once colleges receive that information, it typically takes several weeks to prepare financial aid packages.

Students applying to university have been left in limbo this year as they wait for approval from the Department of Education. revision of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The form, known as the FAFSA, is used to determine eligibility for federal Pell Grants, and is used by colleges and states to award their own financial aid to students.

The update was intended to simplify the form, but it took months longer than expected. It gives colleges less time to make financial aid offers to students and gives students less time to decide where to enroll.

“This is another unforced error that will likely cause further processing delays for students,” said Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

After so many delays, he added, “Every mistake adds up and every student who relies on need-based financial aid will feel it gravely in making their postsecondary dreams come true.”

The latest misstep has to do with the Student Aid Index, a new formula used to determine students’ level of financial need after submitting the FAFSA application. For some students, the department forgot to take into account certain financial assets, including investments, savings and total cash, according to an agency memo sent to colleges on Friday.

It resulted in a lower student aid rate for those students, indicating that they have more financial need than they actually do.

As the department sorts out those students’ records, it encourages colleges to do their own calculations and put together “a tentative aid package.”

Draeger opposed that idea, saying that universities can only work with “valid and correct data.”

“It is neither feasible nor realistic to submit incorrect FAFSA data and ask thousands of schools to make real-time calculations and adjustments to the federal formula,” he said.

Advocates fear the chaos of this year’s process could deter students from going to college, especially those for whom finances are a key part of the decision.

Senate Republicans are requesting a hearing with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to discuss their “serious concerns” about the implementation of the FAFSA.

In a video message Friday, Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said it’s “not right” to ask universities to correct the department’s mistake.

“We were supposed to get it right the first time, and we were supposed to get it right three months ago,” said Cassidy, the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “We need more accountability, more responsibility, more trust from the Department of Education.”

The time-consuming FAFSA form underwent an overhaul in 2020 through bipartisan legislation in Congress. The bill promised to simplify the form, going from 100 questions to fewer than 40, and also changed the underlying formula for student aid, promising to expand it to more low-income students.

But the update has been plagued by delays and technical glitches.

The form is normally available to fill out in October, but the Department of Education didn’t have it ready until late December. Even then, the agency was not ready to start processing the forms and sending them to states and universities, which only began this month.

Along the way, the department has worked to correct numerous errors. At first, the process failed to adequately account for inflation. Another ruling prevented parents from completing the form if they did not have a Social Security number. That meant that many students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents but whose parents are not were unable to apply.

The department says those problems have been fixed and it is 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 of the approximately 6 million received so far.

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


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