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  • Karmen Zhao, Staff Writer

New FAFSA launch initiative results in uncertain circumstances for students

Art by Alma Snortum-Phelps.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has launched a new 2024-25 initiative to encourage lower-income and under-represented students and families to apply to college. According to the official FAFSA website, the 2024-25 FAFSA will include “even more aid for single parents, including expanded eligibility for the maximum Pell Grant funds and a larger increase in Income Protection Allowance.” This new initiative that is now in the works, however, is causing delays that have been affecting Willamette’s financial aid team and students.  

According to AP News, the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), a formula measuring a family’s financial strength that takes a family’s assets, income, benefits and social security into consideration, will now be replaced with a different formula known as the Student Aid Index (SAI), which “will help determine the amount that each student can receive in financial aid.” SAI is considered to be a more productive method of determining student aid because it allows families to include and exclude different things as assets and it also takes into consideration the number of children families already have in college. “These changes make the SAI a more accurate reflection of which students actually have the greatest need for financial aid,” concluded AP News. 

The new system was created with the purpose of further helping students. However, it has become problematic for some families. The excitement of the launch was short-lived as it was announced on the FAFSA website that there would be routine pauses to the FAFSA portal for frequent technical updates and site maintenance. This created delays for families and students, such as the inability to log into the FAFSA portal with a FAFSA ID. This also made access to financial aid significantly more difficult for students who do not have a Social Security Number yet require verification of identity.

Sue Corner, the dean of undergraduate admission and a Willamette alum, mentioned that FAFSA had a solid goal, but released the new launch before it was ready. The premature release caused a multitude of problems, such as not opening FAFSA forms until Jan. 1 when they typically open on Oct. 1. Even though the program was launched, it was called a “soft launch.” “A lot of people who tried to go in and fill it out didn’t know it didn’t work. It had glitches and is continuing to have glitches, so there are a lot of students who are still battling to get their FAFSA information,” said Corner. 

The delays in FAFSA have made it difficult for colleges to put together financial aid packages, but without FAFSA’s communication of their problems and their slowness in processing student information, colleges are unable to do anything. 

Many of FAFSA’s issues are affecting existing students personally. Lizzie Pfister (‘27) recalled, “There were problems with getting my mom connected to it and once it was filled out, there were issues with making a correction. My first FAFSA was denied by Willamette until the correction was made in late April. Then it was accepted after the form was resubmitted.”

The effect on enrollment numbers for the upcoming year is uncertain with these FAFSA changes. Corner explained, “Long term, our goal would be about 2,000 undergraduate students total, so that means we’re bringing in maybe 550-525 each year. We could be a little bit smaller, but it’s just too early to tell. I don’t think it will be significantly smaller.”

News of the FAFSA updates also stirred a panic in the sports department of many colleges as schools scrambled for recruitment, but Willamette has continued to find success as a Division III school. Head softball coach Paige Hall stated, “We didn’t have any issues with FAFSA and our recruiting this year since every school was in the same boat. It may have delayed the process for some student-athletes but ultimately it ended up working out for us.” 

James Meul, the recruiting coordinator and pitching coach of Willamette’s baseball team, noted that the team did not encounter any issues when it came to recruiting but were concerned they could have. Unlike the school, the team was only dealing with seven or eight new incoming students and families, and Meul felt, “It’s been something where the individual families that we have recruited have worked it out.”

Willamette has been productive in communicating with prospective families and students about FAFSA’s issues. As many schools shy away from explaining the process of student aid for 2024-25 due to a lack of knowledge, Willamette continues to notify and help families that are struggling with issues relating to FAFSA, according to Corner. In terms of this success, Corner credits Patti Hogan, Willamette’s director of financial aid, who carries a high level of expertise when handling financial aid situations. While other schools were unable to communicate clearly with prospective students and families due to FAFSA’s delays, Willamette was able to release scholarships and awards before many other schools. “[Hogan] knows what she is doing and that has really built competence with our prospective students,” said Corner. 

Corner concluded, “[Willamette is] doing everything we can. The people that we can’t help yet are those truly stuck. The thing we can do is extend the deadline for specific families who we can’t help until FAFSA gives them what they need.” Students and families have received guidance from Willamette as both the school and prospective students are in the same boat in receiving information and updates from FAFSA itself.  

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