A $1.8B mistake is a pretty big one and news of it, and how it would be addressed, rocked the financial aid world last week.
I was facilitating a roundtable with financial aid leaders from our community on Tuesday morning, before the news broke, and there was already a lot to lament:
- The much anticipated FAFSA launch became a soft launch and had students trying to fill out a form that was only open in small intervals starting December 30th and continuing into the next week
- The process for getting an FSA ID a SSN was cumbersome at best. On our call of ~25 leaders, not a single one said they had seen a parent successfully be able to do this
- The help center was offering little to no help
- ISIRs were set to come in the end of January, later than anticipated
- And many software providers said it would take several additional weeks to be able to process those ISIRs, creating more concern for leaders who have a strong incentive to get students their financial aid award letters faster
And that call was BEFORE the news that a recent adjustment to the inflationary numbers led to a miscalculation of family income – which then led to families being eligible for LESS aid than they should have been. That’s where the $1.8B comes in. Across all students, this miscalculation could cost them $1.8B in aid.
The Education Department has provided assurance that the mistake will be fixed. But similar to what we’ve seen in the past, did not put out a hard deadline for when that would be. And that causes problems for financial aid leaders and their departments. The uncertainty in the timeline has a domino effect on their work and ability to get students offers and students’ ability to access higher education.
We loved seeing a leader from a Meadow school, Christina Tangalakis of Glendale Community College quoted in this NPR piece as saying “It's nausea-inducing."
But, as we hope you know, we are not here to complain about the challenges; we are working to figure out how to tackle them!
First, we hope that in the absence of timely data from the Education Department, your NPC continues to serve as a valuable resource. While many schools rely on students filling out the “Send to School” function and then reach out, it has been also great to see the number of schools using Meadow Price live with students - at FAFSA nights on campus, in high school classrooms, and on the phone with financial aid counselors.
Second, while we all want students to get the most accurate number (we pride ourselves on that, IYKYK) the mistake is mostly likely to underestimate aid rather than overestimate it. We know this may cause some students to be worried, but the upside is conversations with your team now or offer letters down the line are likely to be a pleasant surprise.
Third, we want you to know that while we don’t have super secret inside knowledge and know when the mistake would be fixed and the correct data sent (but boy, do I wish we did!) we are monitoring this closely and as soon as new tables are released and the Department adjust the numbers, we will roll out that change for every NPC that we support within a week.
Until then we are taking some deep breaths, reminding ourselves that in the end all of this is going to benefit students (a faster FAFSA and more money are both things we can get behind). And we are calling on the positive energy of leaders like Brenda Hicks, Director of Financial Aid at Southwestern College who brightly told us on the call “we are all in this together and it’s going to be ok”