Campus offices respond to FAFSA delays

Repeated delays this year of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are preventing colleges and universities from receiving the FAFSA information and, therefore, rendering the institutions unable to determine financial aid eligibility for students.

A National Public Radio (NPR) article states, “the department says it won’t be sending students’ FAFSA data to schools until the first half of March. Previously, it had said it would start sending that data in late January.”

The article points out, “for many of those students, that leaves less than a month before they’re expected to commit to a college.”

These delays are due to the implementation of the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020 and the inflation-based miscalculation of it from the Department of Education (DOE).

If the DOE did not take the extra time to make these corrections, the error would have withheld an additional $1.8 billion in federal student aid from students.

“The FAFSA Simplification Act has been anything but simple so far,” President Scott D. Miller said when addressing FAFSA delays through an Instagram Reel.

“Virginia Wesleyan is doing everything in its power to produce realistic financial aid packages for our prospective students based on what we do know,” Miller said.

Miller advised prospective students to, “stay in touch with us, and don’t give up.”

Beth Koroleski, director of Financial Aid, provided her insight on the delays and their effect on financial aid for students.

During the wait, Koroleski said the office will be sending out emails to “let [prospective students] know about institutional scholarships and grants that they’re eligible for before we’re able to send their full award letter with all of their eligibility to give them a heads-up so they know what’s available so far.”

“I imagine they will start giving that information to schools in the middle of March,” Koroleski said. “And then there’ll be a period of time where we’ll have to do some testing to make sure that our systems are able to pull in the information.”

Koroleski also assured that current students do not need to stress about the situation.

“Current students can expect their awards to look pretty much the same as last year so you kind of know what your situation is and if nothing has changed, you can expect it to be pretty much the same,” Koroleski said.

The issue mostly concerns incoming students who are looking to compare multiple financial aid packages. “I think that for them is the biggest stressor because they need to make the best decisions for themselves, and we want to give them that information, but we can’t,” Koroleski said.

Koroleski said that students can expect financial aid award letters by April.

Along with Financial Aid, Enrollment is also affected by FAFSA delays. Nikki Nieves, director of Enrollment for the Batten Honors College, shared her perspective.

“VWU has also joined several other institutions in moving the deposit deadline from the traditional May 1 date to June 1,” Nieves said.

Nieves acknowledged the difficulties this can pose for families. “It’s challenging to ask a family to make a commitment to a college when they don’t know the financial commitment required,” Nieves said.

When describing specific challenges with FAFSA, Koroleski mentioned that “things have changed on the FAFSA. There’s a new methodology that decides who’s eligible for what, but those changes were made to increase eligibility for things like the Pell Grant.”

Koroleski explained that the FAFSA delays aren’t all bad news. “It should be to the benefit of our students that they may see more aid on their award letters in terms of Pell,” she said.

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Additionally, Koroleski said that the delays have also given the office more adjustment time. “It’s given us more time to learn the new FAFSA, how the new aid eligibility is being calculated. And then once it becomes available, we’ll be able to go ahead and start reviewing and processing information to get it out to students.”

Nieves illustrated another benefit of the delays regarding time for relationship-building with families of prospective Marlins. “We believe they are getting a sense of our genuine nature and desire for them to join the Marlin community,” Nieves said.

Enrollment Counselor Hailey Schumacher brought up the collaboration that the FAFSA delays have prompted among campus offices. “It also allowed us to have more connection between offices and have conversations between enrollment and financial aid and finance and all the different offices on campus that help get students here for their first year or if they’re transferring for their first time here at Virginia Wesleyan,” Schumacher said.

“We’ve seen a lot of students appreciating the effort that we’re putting in and the communications that we’re having,” Schumacher said.

As a result of these concerns, Koroleski advised students to communicate with the school. “We are here to help,” Koreleski said. “If… you’re really worried about next year and what it’s going to look like, call us, email us. There’s lots we can do.”

Nieves encouraged prospective students to see the campus for themselves and allow that to drive their decision. “Many that visit our campus, whether in-person or virtually, absolutely fall in love with the atmosphere and community, and just have this one final piece to fully commit and submit a deposit,” Nieves said.

“Our enrollment counselors have been working feverishly to maintain contact with prospective students to answer any questions they may have, while also staying present and visible as time approaches for them to make their commitment decisions for our incoming fall class,” Nieves said.

Additionally, Schumacher advised that students should still fill out the FAFSA as soon as they’re able. “That way, once it is processed, if there’s any errors, we can get those resolved sooner than later,” Schumacher said.

National College Attainment Network (NCAN) reported that, compared to 2023, there has been a drop in the number of students submitting the FAFSA this year.

To combat this decrease in students filling out the FAFSA, Koroleski said, “don’t lose faith that the information is on the way, and I hope that that doesn’t deter anyone from moving forward with what they had planned.”

On Jan. 5, there was a reported 1.2 million decrease in students submitting the FAFSA. On Feb. 16, this difference lowered by 714,000.

By Isaac Fick