FAFSA flubbed: offline forms and extra work

Emma Polen | Editor-in-Chief 

Federal student aid arrived three months late to students and their families, delaying everything. The reason? The new FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application, which determines an individual’s aid from the federal government toward higher education, was supposed to improve the eligibility of all students for additional monetary assistance. But unfortunately, that was not the reality in 2024.

The FAFSA 2024-2025 form, which typically opens in October of the previous year, opened Dec. 31. It quickly went down, telling the site’s visitors looking to fill out their applications that “the FAFSA site is under maintenance.” The site was not completely operational until Jan. 8, more than a week later, according to NPR.

Before Dec. 30, the government student aid site was experimenting with a new and slightly unprofessional “soft opening” of their FAFSA form. The idea was for users to head to the site to begin filling out their application prior to the form’s official opening for the new year. However, whenever anyone in my family tried this, we were met with a blank screen and an error message. Ergo – there was no way to get a head start on an already late FAFSA application.

All public colleges and universities in the United States, and many private institutions as well, depend on FAFSA for the offers they send to incoming students. Filling out the FAFSA doesn’t actually give individuals money. It provides the information necessary to determine how much money and additional aid they’ll receive from the schools they’re applying to (or already attend). I filled out the FAFSA in October of 2019, a year before I was even out of high school.

The information supplied to schools from the FAFSA is important, especially the first time, because it might affect a student’s choice of college. In my case, I made my decision to attend Duquesne because it was the cheapest option at the time. And I’m sure I’m not alone in my experience. While noting some personal observations about this year’s form, the application appeared to contain more general questions, less specific to adjusted gross income and taxed income. If FAFSA affects the offers made to students, I would certainly want the submitted form to be as accurate and specific to my situation as possible.

Without information from the FAFSA applications submitted by students and their families, NPR said schools will not be able to send any financial offers to students until at least February, which is months later than the earliest offers school could provide in previous years.

The biggest mistake that reports are pointing out is FAFSA’s lack of adjusting for inflation, which was Congress’ whole reason for spurring an updated application for federal student aid.

According to national higher education reporter, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, from the Washington Post, the U.S. Department of Education was directed by a bipartisan agreement in Congress to raise the level of “protected” income for parents, students and students with children of their own, while also adjusting for inflation annually. This would have given students greater aid. “Protected” income does not count toward a family’s or individual’s income when determining how much aid a student will receive.

Without considering the most recent inflation rates, FAFSA will have less to offer students than was originally promised with the 2024 application, affecting work study, subsidized loan and scholarship eligibility.

Had they made the proper adjustment to three years of inflation, cumulatively above 18%, the results for the 2024-2025 FAFSA would look very different, according to Bryce McKibben, the senior director of policy and advocacy at the Hope Center at Temple University.

This is a brand new form that did not save anyone’s information from last year’s, so applicants have to fill all of their information in again. But it might not even make that much of a difference.

There seems to be a lot more attention to kids without parents in the FAFSA application, whether their situation includes homelessness or no financial support from family.

No one knows if the number will be the same or different.

So, it’s still worth filling out the 2024 FAFSA application, but it’s also worth knowing that some time in the future, there may be another application coming out with the updated math … or not. Will we ever be certain?

Even if FAFSA fails to meet America’s higher expectations for federal student aid this year, Duquesne students still have a few opportunities even here on campus to earn scholarship funds from their achievements. Keep in mind, these suggestions take additional effort, but sometimes you are already doing an experiment or (in my case) a presentation about GMOs for a sociology class that also counts toward a potential award-winning opportunity.

Integrity of Creation Conference
March 26-27 | Power Center
Submissions due by: March 22 (by participating course instructors)
Have you noticed the IOC Conference in your class’s syllabus? Even if there’s a presentation on there for extra credit about “Pathways to Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” do it. For each participating class, a group of students is asked to present their projects to the conference and can win real money from it.

Undergraduate Research & Scholarship Symposium
April 17 | Power Center
Submissions due by: Wednesday, February 28 | 5 p.m. EST
Avoid overlooking those research papers due on the syllabus at the end of the semester. They may very well fit perfectly into one of the categories: Global Health; Catholic Faith and Culture; Teaching Excellence.

Major-Specific Competitions
Don’t skip over those emails that look like spam from your professor. I landed an internship from opening an email sent out to the whole English department. Even if the opportunities emailed to you require you to give up a Saturday morning to attend a public speaking event, the possibility of earning gas money is enough to make me want to do it.