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FAFSA college aid applications are being processed after months-long delays

Elmira College campus.
Natalie Abruzzo
Elmira College campus.

Colleges and universities are beginning to receive the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms for incoming students after months-long delays.

The FAFSA program had a late start with the rollout of its new and updated policies and website.

The FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020 was meant to improve the process for students and families to apply for federal financial aid for higher education. Instead, it pushed financial aid decisions out by several months. Traditionally, the application is opened on Oct. 1 each year. However, in 2023 it opened on Dec. 30; a three-month lag time for students and higher education institutions.

Now, colleges and universities are behind in their application processes and scholarship opportunity offerings to potential students.

The U.S. Department of Education anticipated schools would begin receiving FAFSAs by the beginning of March 2024.

Lorraine Mothershed, the director of financial aid at Elmira College, a four-year, private institution in Chemung County, said Elmira can offer more aid in addition to what federal financial aid is available, once the FAFSA forms are completed.

“Elmira College offers merit awards,” she said. “You don't have to complete the FAFSA to get a merit award. So basically, that's based [off] your high school transcripts, you find that out when you're accepted for admission. But after that, we do rely on the FAFSA that determines what's called your financial need.”

Financial need is based on the new Student Aid Index (SAI) number. The SAI replaced the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The new federal formula removed some previous barriers while expanding eligibility for federal Pell Grants.

“So the higher the cost of the college, the more financial needs you have, which means the college can do more to help you out,” explained Mothershed.

Elmira College said it began receiving FAFSAs the week of March 11.

Other institutions are finding the opportunity to engage students who may not get into their first choice of four-year schools—or—are thinking about taking a year off to work until the FAFSA system is working at full capacity.

“Maybe this isn't your number one choice of where you wanted to go to school, and you're not getting the information that you need from the private schools in order to financially be able to make that decision,” expressed Shalena Clary, senior director of financial aid for SUNY Corning Community College. “Come to Corning for a year and work on all of your basic requirements that you're going to need to be able to transfer to that school, instead of taking a year away from studies and working.”

Clarey said its applications are up 15-20 percent compared to this time last year. It began receiving FAFSAs on March 20.

According to the schools WSKG spoke to, financial aid departments are accessible and can help with the FAFSA process through in-person workshops, individual appointments and virtual meetings.

Earlier this year, the National Association for College Admission Counseling along with other related organizations asked colleges and universities to extend their traditional May 1 enrollment deposit deadlines. This request was made so families could have enough time to make decisions about post-secondary schooling.

According to its website, Cornell University is one of the local-area schools extending its offers past the May 1 deadline.