Apr 19, 2024 - Education

FAFSA delays have set Minnesota college financial aid applications way behind pace

Illustration of a tangled tassel hanging from a graduation cap.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

New data show applications for federal college financial aid are down sharply in Minnesota — and thousands of students who have applied are still waiting to hear how much aid they can expect.

The big picture: Minnesota's not alone. A rocky rollout of a new version of the federal financial aid application known as the FAFSA has led to steep drops and huge processing backlogs in submissions nationwide.

Why it matters: "Without urgent intervention, we risk a catastrophic decline in college enrollment," eight college access organizations warned Gov. Tim Walz in a letter this week. That would have "far-reaching implications for our state's future workforce."

  • Counselors worry in particular about the delays affecting lower-income students and students of color.

By the numbers: Data released Thursday show more than 26,000 Minnesota students have applied for financial aid — an 18% drop from the same point last year.

  • Usually by this point, most students should know how much assistance they'll receive. But just over 21,500 students have heard back, or about four out of every five applicants.
  • By this point last year, 95% of the more than 32,000 applicants had received a response.

Context: In January, technical glitches marred the U.S. Department of Education's rollout of a new FAFSA form — which, ironically, was meant to make the application far simpler and quicker to complete.

  • Later, the discovery of a math error in the formula forced federal officials to recalculate students' aid awards, leading to more delays.
  • Many schools, including the University of Minnesota, have already pushed back enrollment deadlines.

What they're saying: "These types of disruptions and delays and confusion — what we've seen is they tend to compound barriers that already exist," said Zoey Haines of Achieve Twin Cities, which provides college counseling services in most Minneapolis and St. Paul public high schools.

  • Low-income students or students of color often "need a solid financial aid package" to make it to college.

The intrigue: Minnesota now guarantees free tuition for students with annual family incomes of $80,000 or less.

  • Yes, but: Haines told Axios that students must complete the FAFSA process to qualify.

The good news: A student filling out the form now is far less likely to run into glitches than they were this winter, Haines adds.


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