FAFSA data delays? Many colleges say they can't process info in time – USA TODAY

Two-thirds of colleges and universities polled in a new survey said they don’t believe they’ll be able to successfully process student financial aid data in the next few weeks. And fewer than half of them are adjusting their decision deadlines so far.
The concerns were detailed in a letter sent to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona Thursday by the American Council on Education and a slew of other organizations representing colleges in Washington. 
They were just some of the striking things more than 350 colleges had to say when asked about how they’re responding to the repeated delays in this year’s rollout of the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. In the latest blunder just a week ago, the Education Department acknowledged it was miscalculating the data for hundreds of thousands of students – a mistake it blamed on an outside vendor and said has since been fixed. 
Read more:In an ‘unforced error,’ the feds just botched financial aid data for roughly 200K students
The glaring admission by colleges confirms widespread fears that the bungled rollout of the new financial aid form would have downstream effects for millions of students. It’s also an indication of just how crucial the month of April will be for college financial aid offices, especially at institutions that haven’t yet joined the growing list of schools pushing back their decision cutoffs. 
Even Cardona is pleading with governors to extend their statewide financial aid deadlines beyond the beginning of May after the department said this week that students wouldn’t be able to make corrections to their FAFSA forms until the “first half of April.” 
“The Class of 2024 has been held in a prolonged waiting pattern, and it keeps getting more chaotic,” said Karla Robles, who works with a Chicago-based organization called OneGoal that supports disadvantaged high schoolers. “For many students, especially students from low-income communities, FAFSA is the financial resource that can make a difference between them going to college or not.”
Read more:Millions of students may have just weeks to compare college financial aid offers
The revamped FAFSA, which was congressionally required, will make hundreds of thousands more low-income students eligible for financial aid, according to the Education Department.
But the Biden administration’s limited transparency about its struggles with the rollout have led to a dramatic erosion of trust between the federal government, colleges and students in the past few months. As the department works to clear a backlog of roughly 2 million applications, colleges are urging federal officials to be as straightforward as possible about any more potential hiccups. 
“If they have observed some issues that are going to need to be fixed in some way, we’ve asked them to release whatever it is that they know – like now,” said Karen McCarthy, vice president of public policy and federal relations at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, in a podcast interview Friday.
The American Council on Education survey highlights several key concerns colleges have.
The first involves a mailbox system the department developed to share the FAFSA information with colleges. Among colleges that haven’t set theirs up, most described technical problems. They struggled to connect and update the software and get customer service from the department.
Read more:College financial aid caught in the crosshairs of Washington shutdown turmoil
The second points to the timing. A few weeks isn’t enough to dig through the complicated records, most said. Some schools suggested it would take at least a month, if not six weeks.
Because of the glitches and all the backlogs because of delays, administrators worry the incoming data will overload institutions at a time when students are relying on it to make high-stakes decisions about where to go to school.
On Friday, the Education Department said it would ease up on the deadlines for new oversight regulations set to take effect later this year. 
“This adjusted timeline allows institutions to focus their efforts on getting aid to students this spring,” the agency said. 

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