Navigating Financial Aid Complexity: The Critical Role of Net Price Calculators Amidst FAFSA Delays

Amy Jenkins
July 10, 2024

Navigating the world of college financial aid can be tricky for students and families at best. And some years are more challenging than others.  The recent release of the simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) resulted in both lower completion rates as well as massive FAFSA processing delays, creating barriers to accessing college funding for hundreds of thousands of students. Lack of funding, or lack of information about it, can throw a wrench in students' plans, affecting not just their personal decisions, but also how colleges manage their admissions and finances. The impact is significant and long lasting.

The FAFSA delays impacted all students, but most significantly low-income students and students from historically marginalized communities. Nearly 84% of students receive some form of financial aid. But delays disproportionately affect low-income students and students of color, who are often more dependent on financial aid to afford college: 88% of Black students, 87% of Native students, and 82% of Latino students received some type of financial aid.  Reports indicate that schools with higher populations of low-income and minority students see larger declines in FAFSA completion rates.

Colleges have developed a number of ways to support students amidst the FAFSA delays, including sending their students proactive communications to drive awareness and help them prepare, updating their net price calculators, and even rethinking key events like Admitted Students’ Day. But some of these strategies can take months to implement, the impact is relatively unclear, and don’t solve the overarching problem of declining college enrollment.

In our newest whitepaper we dig into the implications of the delays, the actions schools can take, and how a modern net price calculator can help. 

In a year of FAFSA delays, errors, glitches and endless waiting for ISIRs, NPCs have become even more valuable. They offer a preliminary look at potential financial aid while official figures are pending. This is especially helpful in a climate where timely information is crucial for making education decisions without undue stress. NPCs allow students to proceed with their college applications and planning without waiting for formal aid notifications. 

For example, Colorado Mesa launched an initiative called “The Wait is Over” that is designed to preempt the financial aid uncertainty plaguing students nationwide due to FAFSA delays – and the centerpiece of this initiative is upgrading their NPC. This modern NPC allows students to estimate their grant and scholarship awards and to actually receive an early offer of a financial aid package they can bank on, based on information about their family income. 

“We are ensuring that students who are most in need of a college education can plan their futures with the confidence that their financial aid will not be hampered by further delays,” said CMU President John Marshall

NPCs not only offer practical solutions but also instill confidence in students and families during the stressful college planning phase. They are pivotal in ensuring that education decisions are informed, timely, and less stressful—even when external systems like FAFSA face disruptions.

Download the whitepaper to learn more.

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