All Things Considered

Recent FAFSA updates and delays are causing headaches in Minnesota

Buildings stand on a university campus
FAFSA didn’t become available until the end of December — three months later than usual.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The newly remade Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is causing headaches for students, families and universities across the country. 

FAFSA didn’t become available until the end of December 2023 — three months later than usual. Further delays and glitches now mean that students are receiving their loan and scholarship packages later than expected. 

MPR News host Tom Crann talked with Liz Navratil, higher education reporter for the Star Tribune, about the FAFSA delays and how it’ll affect Minnesotans. 

What are the latest developments in the FAFSA delays? 

There were a lot of people who reported having just technical glitches, they might get kicked off the form problems with its operation. And then we had this second delay. So the way this works behind the scenes is students go online, they fill out the form, the U.S. Department of Education packages the data and shares it with the schools. The new development is that the U.S. Department of Education said it’s going to be late sharing information to schools. So that has created a whole new set of ripple effects here.

Have you talked to different schools around Minnesota? Let’s start with two of our bigger systems, University of Minnesota and Minnesota State. What are they saying?

The Minnesota state folks tell me they’re still confident they’ll be able to get financial aid offers out to students. The University of Minnesota says they acknowledge this is really stressful for students and families, and they are looking at whether their decision deadlines still make sense, particularly for new freshmen who might be entering college for the first time. But they haven’t announced any changes, and said it’s something they’re considering.

What about smaller private colleges, such as Macalester which uses a different form, how is that playing out?

So, Macalester is one of four schools in Minnesota that also uses this separate form called the CSS Profile. That’s a very similar type of form that students and families fill out. But it has some additional questions about medical expenses, and expected future income. So schools that use that form, say they think they might be buffered from some of the worst effects of this. But even so, Macalester acknowledges they’re still keeping an ear to the ground to try to figure out what this might mean for their students.  

Do we know how many students will actually be affected?

In a typical year, about 225,000 Minnesotans will fill out the FAFSA form, and that number does fluctuate from year to year. We don’t expect the effects for students with wealthier families, and who can cover college out of pocket. But this might mean a few extra headaches for them. 

I think the fear I’ve heard from some advocates is that they worry, this might have a disproportionate effect on lower income students for whom that aid might be a make-or-break factor in their college decisions, and whether they go to college to begin with. 

What kind of effect might this have on the schools or institutions of higher learning down the road?

I think they’re all still trying to work that out. Right now we know a lot of schools have financial aid staff working extra hours putting in a lot of extra time to try to make sure they can answer questions from students and families.

We know they’re having internal discussions about whether deadlines should change. Often around this time of the year, a lot of schools are starting to get data back that shows how many people are committing for next year. So this delay is probably throwing a little loop into some of their longer term plans as well.

What have you heard from students and their families? 

Right now, what I’ve heard from a lot of students and families is just how frustrating the situation is. Some people are hitting technical glitches where they might get booted off the form or if something got entered incorrectly, they’re having trouble correcting it in a quick manner.

I think a lot of families are still waiting to hear what kind of aid offers they’re going to get back. So it might be some time before we know for sure whether folks are seeing a big difference in the grants or loan amounts they’re offered. 

What sort of general advice is there that makes sense for most people, students and families as they’re trying to deal with this?

I think there are two main places they tend to send folks if they have questions. One is you could contact the Financial Aid Office at a college or a university where you’ve been accepted, or the U.S. Department of Education also runs a website called studentaid.gov that has a lot of FAQ sections.

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