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FAFSA Delays Continue to Cause Headaches for the Admissions Office | University times

By SHANNON O. WELLS

Under normal circumstances, Pitt’s Office of Admissions and Financial Aid gives prospective students and families months to decide whether to commit to Pitt after receiving information about available financial aid.

After problems with the revised FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) delayed the information colleges and universities across the country needed to determine financial aid, that decision-making window has narrowed significantly.

“We normally give them three to four months to make decisions based on financial information, and now we’re asking them to make that decision within three weeks,” said Kelly Kane, Pitt’s vice provost for enrollment. “As a parent, as a family, I could say, ‘Let’s take a year off. You could work, you could travel, you could do something, and then we’ll apply again next year.” “

With more than 60,000 applicants vying for approximately 4,800 spots in the freshman class — based on available resources in housing, dining and classrooms — Kane noted that the question comes down to, “Who are we not offering space to?”

“I think it is extremely unfair to current applicants and admitted students,” she said. “I also don’t want to put next year’s candidates in that same group at a disadvantage, because now we have two classes of people, none of whom have done anything to deserve the current situation they find themselves in. So we’ll keep an eye on things.”

Kane shared her concerns and frustrations about the recent FAFSA-related issues during the April 4 meeting of the University Senate’s Student Aid, Admissions and Affairs Committee. She was there with Marc Harding, vice provost for enrollment, and Hank Crawford, executive director of financial aid, to outline the situation and answer related questions.

On April 18, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) pushed back the FAFSA submission deadline to June 1 for students hoping to receive a Pennsylvania state grant to help pay for college.

Pitt’s Office of Admissions and Financial Aid said it received the first batch of FAFSA information files, called ISIRs (Institutional Student Information Records), on March 19. The files contained “numerous technical issues” that the Ministry of Education and PeopleSoft had to address.

As a result, Pitt expected that fall 2024 financial aid offers would be sent to new students the week of April 22. “The bottom line is that this time last year, financial aid offers were on the street in the first week of February,” Harding says. said. ‘And it’s April. We just received the information about the financial aid, the data we need to get into the system.”

In February, Pitt joined several schools in extending the financial aid deadline for freshmen admitted this fall from May 1 to May 15, “to help families have more time between when we make the offers received by mail and when they have to make a decision.”

In a typical financial aid application process, Harding explains, a student fills out a FAFSA form, which is processed and sent as an ISIR data packet to a school like Pitt.

“It’s a wealth of information that we get from the student and the family upon completion of the FAFSA,” he said, noting that 17 million to 20 million FAFSA forms are filed annually. “This is a huge, huge problem. It is estimated that FAFSA completion among high school students alone has dropped by approximately 20 to 30 percent.”

Harding estimated that Pitt has received approximately 40,000 ISIRs from students completing FAFSA forms for fall 2024.

“Finally, that information is starting to flow into the university. If 20 percent of that data is incorrect, that’s 8,000 students with incorrect information who submitted FAFSA information and requested that information be sent to Pitt. And again, you can think about this nationally and the composite nature of this. It’s a really, really serious problem.”

In response to a question from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Robin Kear about how other colleges and universities are responding to the FAFSA issues, Hank Crawford said the financial aid office has seen an increase in the number of colleges “already with financial aid offers goes out. And I know there are a number of local schools that have decided to do that, at great risk.”

There will be many schools that will have to “walk back” on what they originally offered as new ISIRs come in with “highly incorrect” data, he added. “What does that look like for them? As frustrating as it is for us and the families who want to come here wait until the end of April, (Pitt will) be more precise about that. And I think it gives us a better conversation to see what we need to do to fill that gap.”

The standard financial aid offerings from different colleges, Crawford explained, are not an “apples to apples” comparison. Some schools automatically provide a Parent PLUS loan, “which makes it look like the student has no balance, assuming the parents are going to take out a $25,000 loan,” he said. “And so we combat that, by educating our families about what they’re looking for, and then having those conversations about filling the gap and finding tools and ways to do that as well.”

At a recent meeting of admissions and financial aid staff, Harding said their “simple” message to each other, as well as families, in the wake of the FAFSA delays and impacts is “mercy, compassion and understanding.” He urged anyone who knows a family in need and having problems to call or email an enrollment or financial aid representative.

“Because people are stressed,” he said. “The best thing we do is listen and help do what we can to give students the resources and their families the resources needed to make a decision and hopefully get on their way.

“And I know this sounds so simplistic, but right now with everything that’s happening on the planet and in our worlds, (with) people just trying to survive,” he added. “If you hear of anyone who needs help, please let us know.”

As part of her report to the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 11, Chancellor Joan Gabel recognized the work of the admissions and financial aid teams while they were embroiled in FAFSA-related challenges.

“We have exceeded the 60,000 registration mark. So we are very happy with that,” she says. “However, this is happening in the midst of what is all over the papers surrounding the FAFSA challenges. We are in trouble – I don’t have a more elegant way to describe it – and are beholden to the federal government if they release the FAFSA data.

“They work so hard,” she said of the admissions and financial aid staff. “So if you see a member who has financial aid or an admission, thank them for doing their best this year.

“No matter how difficult it is for us. I can’t imagine what this is like for the students who are waiting for news of the support they almost certainly need and depend on to be able to study and know that their education will be accessible and affordable,” Gabel added . “And we are working very hard to get that information to them and support them in the meantime.

So far, about 3,000 students have visited Pitt for admitted student days this year, Gabel said. Normally, the university would have received confirmation and deposits from these freshmen “and that is not happening because the FAFSA information is not complete.

“We still have 6,000 students scheduled to come through and go through Admissions Student Day with a still unforeseeable amount of time before we will know for sure when to set an actual hard deadline for students to pay their deposit and commit – nationwide, not just here,” she added.

“So we will keep you informed. And we will continue to support our potential and future students and our hardworking and amazing colleagues in the areas of financial aid and admissions. So thank you again for all of them.”

Shannon O. Wells is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him out [email protected].

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