Year after year, families struggle with the FAFSA form. The confusing questions and end goal of the form inspire workshops, self-help books and countless articles in order to better help students and their families navigate the difficult form. As a result, FAFSA administrators have called for revision after revision to simplify the form.
However, this year, one such revision to streamline the FAFSA actually caused 165,000 families to make a costly mistake.
The new update to the income field inadvertently made many low-income families look like millionaires, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education
. While the form did indicate that students needed to enter the family income with “no cents” in the figure, it still wasn’t very clear to many applicants.
Families that had an income, like $20,000.15, looked as if they had an annual figure of $2,000,015, which obviously cost them financial aid from colleges. Jeff Baker, policy liaison for the Department of Education for the Office of Federal Student Aid, told The Chronicle of Higher Education
that a majority of colleges may have one student affected, if not hundreds.
Now that FAFSA administrators are aware of the problem, the pressure is on colleges to fix financial aid award packages for students. Financial aid officers at colleges will need to reexamine packages for low-income families who received proportionately little to no financial aid. In turn, these officers will also have to disburse their own institutional aid to families affected by the FAFSA form mistake.
reports that, as of last week, a fix has been made to the actual FAFSA form to prevent further mistakes.
At first glance, this may appear to be devastating news to needy students. However, that’s not necessarily the case. While it is a huge inconvenience, the end result is more aid to those students that actually need it. Students that have been affected and actually require financial aid to attend college will likely receive money from the federal government in addition to the college they chose to attend.
If you have questions about your FAFSA application or financial aid package, you should contact your college’s financial aid office immediately. They will better be able to tell you whether or not your application was impacted in the FAFSA mistake as well as work with you to amend your financial aid package.
UPDATE: Since publication of this article, The Department of Education issued a press release saying that just a little less than 200,000 applications would be subjected to system-generated transactions on July 21. It is believed that 63% of colleges have fewer than 10 students affected while 31% have between 10 and 100. Roughly 6% of colleges have over 100 students with FAFSA issues.