Have current students been left out of the FAFSA rollout conversation?

During the challenging rollout of the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), much of the focus has been on addressing the concerns of incoming first-year college students, especially those from low-income households or who are the first in their families to attend college. However, current college students who rely on financial aid to continue their education are also facing difficulties submitting their forms and receiving aid packages for the new academic year, according to Inside Higher Ed.

“Normally, returning students start receiving financial aid packages around now so that they know that they’re able to continue their education,” says CJ Powell, director of advocacy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). “It’s crucial that we don’t lose sight of those students.”

Related: FAFSA top of mind as ‘decision day’ comes and goes >

Addressing students’ concerns

Some current students say they have received less support than incoming students. A national survey conducted in April by Inside Higher Ed and The Generation Lab found that 21% of current students did not know about recent changes to the FAFSA; half of those students were financial aid recipients. Thirty-three percent of student respondents, including 36% of low-income students, said their college communicated with them “somewhat or very poorly” about the new FAFSA changes—a risky void, given that some current students will have to refile their FAFSA from scratch due to a new two-parent verification requirement.

“What we’re actually seeing is a massive problem with our returning students because the new FAFSA has different requirements that they are unaware of and unprepared for,” says Joseph Montgomery, associate vice provost for enrollment management at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T). “Renewal is actually more complicated than ever…Going back and getting a parent involved who didn’t need to be before? Revising your tax verification section? Those things are hard.”

Securing additional support

While the Department of Education has increased FAFSA assistance for incoming first-year college students, fewer resources are available for continuing students, and there is little national data tracking their FAFSA submissions. Experts fear that will lead to higher stop out rates among current students, particularly those from low-income households who wait until late summer to receive financial aid before registering for classes required for their major. 

Some colleges where the majority of students receive financial aid, such as NC A&T, are working to provide robust services for students this summer, from setting up FAFSA support centers to having financial aid officers on hand to help students through one-on-one meetings and Zoom calls. 

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