Apr 17, 2024 - News

Ohio families are navigating a FAFSA fiasco

Illustration of a tangled tassel hanging from a graduation cap.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The number of high school seniors in Ohio filing for federal student aid this year is plummeting following the rollout of a glitchy new application process.

Why it matters: Because the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process is working so poorly, some students are now facing the possibility of enrolling at a college without knowing if they'll ultimately be able to afford it.

Driving the news: National College Decision Day — the traditional May 1 deadline for accepted students to commit to a school — is approaching fast.

Zoom in: To account for delays, Ohio State University pushed back its deadline for accepted students to enroll to May 15.

  • But other area schools are sticking with the May 1 deadline for now, including Otterbein University and Cedarville University, per WCMH-TV.

The big picture: The federal government, states and colleges use the FAFSA forms to determine financial aid eligibility. The new version was supposed to streamline a notoriously difficult process and expand aid eligibility.

  • But a disastrous rollout with technical glitches and incorrect information being shared has meant far fewer applications have been turned in at this point than in previous years.

By the numbers: About 33% of Ohio seniors had completed the application as of April 5, according to the National College Attainment Network (NCAN).

  • That is a 30% drop compared to this time last year.

Threat level: Ohio's high school class of 2023 left $120 million in Pell grants on the table, according to the NCAN.

  • More than $4 billion went unclaimed nationally.

Between the lines: Schools are having to decide between using faulty information that could mean students are on the hook for higher tuition bills after next school year, delaying their enrollment process, or asking families to make a decision without knowing their full aid package.

Zoom out: The unusually chaotic college admissions season is also paired with major changes to standardized testing. Also, this is the first application cycle without affirmative action after the U.S. Supreme Court banned consideration of race in college admissions.

🤝 Get help: I Know I Can, a local nonprofit that serves Columbus-area students, is hosting FAFSA help sessions through the end of the month.

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