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News / Clark County News

‘It’s going worse than I anticipated’: Financial aid delays leave many in ‘limbo,’ Clark County education officials say

Evergreen Public Schools counselor says he's unable to track students' progress

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 20, 2024, 5:05pm

Less than two months after the launch of the new-look Free Application for Federal Student Aid site, some parents, students and school counselors are reporting that it’s glitchy, confusing and sometimes entirely inoperable.

In response, several colleges, including Washington State University, have postponed deadlines for financial aid applications and official decision letters as they grapple with delivering federal award packages.

“It’s going worse than I anticipated,” said Ryan Blodgett, a counselor at Union High School in Evergreen Public Schools.

Blodgett handles a caseload of about 25 seniors at Union, each making decisions about secondary education pursuits and seeking his guidance on how to apply for federal aid and other scholarships.

Before the unveiling, the Department of Education claimed the changes would “streamline” the financial aid application process by decreasing the number of questions, linking to IRS filings and splitting up student and parent roles.

Usually, Blodgett and other counselors receive updated data on which of their students have and haven’t filled out the FAFSA through the Washington State Achievement Council. The council hasn’t yet provided that data this year, he said, rendering him unable to track his students’ progress.

Another common issue he hears is that parents without a Social Security number haven’t been able to create the Federal Student Aid ID number necessary to complete the FAFSA. With submission deadlines rapidly approaching, students don’t have a clear idea of whether they can afford the schools they dream of attending.

Although the Department of Education announced last week it is taking steps to help colleges process student records faster and more efficiently, Blodgett said he’s beyond frustrated. He’s left without any answers to give stressed kids and parents.

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“We’re all kind of hanging in limbo,” Blodgett said. “It’s causing stress for the families, and we can’t provide clear guidance.”

Lawmakers weigh in

On Feb. 12, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., penned a letter with 106 other federal lawmakers urging Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to address problems caused by the FAFSA rollout. Prior to the new form’s release, Murray and others had expressed concerns about the delays.

“Any delays in financial aid processing will most impact the students that need aid most,” the letter states. “For institutions to support students’ ability to make informed decisions about their future, they need clear guidance and resources from the department immediately on any and all next steps.”

Cardona responded the following day, announcing the Department of Education would be dedicating millions of dollars and resources to supporting “under-resourced” colleges with technical support.

Washington State University announced last week that it’s postponing deadlines for FAFSA priority submission and general scholarship applications to May 1. Natalie Marquez, the director of student financial aid services at the Vancouver campus, said the change is necessary as the school waits for award estimates from the Department of Education. The delay has hindered recruitment, she said.

“It’s hard to tell a student why they should come here when they don’t have an award estimate,” Marquez said. “But we’re trying to be proactive with students reminding them of new deadlines.”

Marquez said the Department of Education has told WSU to expect award packages by mid-March. She said the delay isn’t affecting how many acceptance letters WSU Vancouver is sending out.

“As long as we’re getting applications, we’re processing and accepting students,” she said. “We just want to tell students, ‘Be patient, we will have more for you soon.’ ”

Parents frustrated

Jennifer Fennerl has two daughters awaiting FAFSA responses. One is a current student at Clark College and the other is a senior at Union.

Her younger daughter applied to six schools, all before the FAFSA site was launched in December. Fennerl said she’s been unable to get any information about how much her daughter will be eligible to receive in aid — a factor that will guide her decision on where to go.

“I don’t feel like there’s anyone I can ask questions of because no one knows,” Fennerl said. “I feel like the whole thing is being dragged out. Are we really going to know if those dates aren’t just going to be extended again?”

Fennerl said that some of the schools her daughter applied to — including a handful of private schools in California — are attempting to offer in-house estimates of how much federal aid applicants might receive.

“Schools want to move forward. They want to get kids to commit to their schools,” she said. “It sounds like these are Band-Aids that private schools are putting in place to fill in the gaps they don’t know.”

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