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Education Department Sends Staff To Help Colleges Fix FAFSA Mess

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Key Takeaways

  • The Department of Education is sending personnel to colleges to help process federal aid applications, hopefully speeding along a process that has been delayed by months.
  • The department is rolling out a modernized FAFSA application, but it hasn't gone smoothly, and colleges aren't getting applications from the government until March, where normally they would start receiving them in October.
  • The delays potentially impact students' ability to decide where to go to college and how much they need to borrow in student loans.

The Department of Education is sending staffers to colleges to help process federal college aid applications that have been delayed by glitches in the department’s rollout of a new streamlined application process.

The department is sending federal personnel and $50 million in funding to colleges, prioritizing smaller, “under-resourced” schools including tribal colleges and historically Black institutions,  the department said Monday. The department is attempting to reduce delays caused by the deployment of a new, simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which college-bound students must fill out to receive grants.

This year, the department isn’t passing aid applications along to colleges until March, about five months after it normally does, potentially causing problems for students who face deadlines for deciding where to go to college. 

The new form is the result of laws passed by Congress in 2019 and 2020 but the department has run into problems modernizing old systems.

“I understand delays have been frustrating for institutions,” education secretary Miguel Cardona said in a conference call with reporters Monday.  “They've been frustrating for me too. But let's keep in mind that we're completely overhauling a broken system, a system that's older than me, based on COBOL, a coding language many institutions stopped using decades ago.”

The extra personnel are intended to help colleges process applications in time for students to be approved for aid, and make informed decisions about where to go to college, as quickly as possible, department officials said.

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