Some Students' College Decisions May Be Delayed Because Of FAFSA Error

A calculation error by the Department of Education could delay some students' college decisions. The error, which impacted several hundred thousand financial aid forms, is the latest in a series of complications with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process this year.

The updated version of the FAFSA form, which was released this year, has been marked with delays and glitches. Typically, colleges send financial aid award letters to students in March and request a decision by May 1 on whether they plan to enroll the following fall. However, many colleges have already delayed this timeline due to the problems with the FAFSA.

The Department of Education's mistake resulted in incorrect financial need information, known as Institutional Student Information Records, or ISIRs, being sent from the government to colleges. The error impacts ISIRs sent to schools prior to March 21. The issue has been resolved for information sent on and after that date, according to the Department of Education.

Despite the error, the vast majority of the 1.5 million ISIRs delivered to colleges so far were not affected. The Department of Education has provided workaround instructions for colleges so that they can still process the impacted ISIRs to generate tentative aid packages for students.

Justin Draeger, CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said in a statement, "This is another unforced error that will likely cause more processing delays for students. At this stage in the game and after so many delays, every error adds up and will be felt acutely by every student who is counting on need-based financial aid to make their postsecondary dreams a reality."

The Department of Education has faced criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for the delays, and the Government Accountability Office has started an investigation into the new form's implementation. In February, the department announced several new steps it was taking to help colleges process the new FAFSA forms and develop student aid awards.

The FAFSA has long been due for an update, and the new version released at the end of last year is a culmination of changes approved by Congress in 2019 and 2020. The Department of Education estimates that 610,000 more students will qualify for a Pell grant on an annual basis, and an estimated 1.5 million more students will be eligible for the maximum Pell grant amount.

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