Editorial Roundup: FAFSA: Make the whole debacle end now

Published 8:50 pm Friday, May 10, 2024

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Administrations of any party are frequently blamed for things out of their control. That is not the case with the current student aid fiasco; it is purely the fault of the U.S. Department of Education, and while the president isn’t personally involved, the people he chose to run the department are.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid — known as FAFSA — has long been the key to unlock the student financial aid treasure chest. It has also long been a cumbersome and complicated form. In 2020, Congress ordered the education department to rework and simplify FAFSA.

And it has been a debacle.

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The new form debuted in December 2023, more than a year later than promised and riddled with technical errors that made it impossible for many to complete the application. Submissions piled up at the education department, which found that a key formula was being incorrectly calculated, corrupting the data. The department fell behind in processing applications, preventing colleges from issuing financial aid awards.

The department repeatedly said it was fixing the problems, but its announced target dates were consistently illusionary.

The numbers are depressing for prospective students and colleges alike. By late March, a month before the customary May 1 deadline for college decision, completed FAFSA applications were down 40% from the previous year. Since 85% of college students receive some form of student aid, the lack of certainty made it difficult if not impossible to commit to enrollment.

The invisible hand of the market — one of those things that administrations cannot control — has been working against higher education anyway. There are fewer Americans in the traditional college-going age bracket, and as the price of college continues to escalate, the value of a degree has been questioned. A number of small private colleges have gone under in recent years, and to the extent that the FAFSA debacle discourages enrollment, more may follow.

Miguel Cardona, the secretary of education, told Congress this week that the problems have been largely resolved. He also says the next cycle will start on time.

But the draft FAFSA for next year, usually published in February or March for comment, is not yet available, and given the department’s failures in this cycle, Cardona’s assurances are meaningless. It’s the results that matter.

— Free Press of Mankato, May 9

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Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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