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US Department of Education announces grant program to boost FAFSA completion

Technical problems and delays with FAFSA have pushed back this year's college decision process for schools, students and their families. KPBS reporter Katie Anastas spoke to a college advisor who says the most urgent need is fixing technical problems with the new form.

The U.S. Department of Education announced a multimillion-dollar grant program on Monday to help students apply for federal financial aid.

It comes after the rollout of changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, caused delays throughout this year’s college admissions process.

The changes were meant to make it easier to fill out and expand access to Pell Grants, which don’t need to be repaid. But the launch of the new form was plagued with delays and problems, like failing to adjust family income for inflation. Instead of opening on the usual Oct. 1, it had a soft launch at the end of December.


Julian Villalvazo, a college and career specialist with the Barrio Logan College Institute, said students, parents and advisors anxiously awaited the new form.

“And then, when it finally did get rolled out, we realized that there were multiple issues that were preventing several of our students from being able to submit, or to complete, the application,” he said.

Adilenne Flores, a senior at The Preuss School, experienced those issues firsthand. Minor differences between her form and her parents’ form would pause the whole process.

“It was really frustrating,” she said. “If I added a space, and I didn't see it, it would be wrong.”

Flores said she finished the FAFSA process just two weeks ago, after many 5 a.m. calls to the U.S. Department of Education.


“It felt endless,” she said.

Federal education officials said the new funding will help school districts, nonprofits and other groups put on FAFSA submission clinics and make advisors available outside of regular school hours.

“We are determined to close the FAFSA completion gap,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten said in a statement.

She said the funding will help states, districts and community groups reach more students who need to fill out the FAFSA, especially students of color and first-generation college students.

But Villalvazo said they need the Education Department to address technical issues, too.

“We can host all of these different support groups on Saturdays or after school, but if the issue lies in being able to contact somebody on their end to be able to verify their identity, and we're not even getting a phone call answered, there's nothing we can do,” he said.

In March, the Education Department announced it would need to reprocess thousands of applications because of calculation errors.

The department said in a news release Monday, its made “significant progress to address known issues” with the new form.

The University of California and California State University systems extended their decision deadlines from May 1 to May 15 because of FAFSA delays.

Flores said she’s thankful schools understood what students were going through, though she’s still waiting to hear about financial aid offers.