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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

July 22, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Even the feds screw up FAFSA: Online glitch affects thousands

About 200,000 would-be college students, most of them low-income, may have received incorrect financial aid offers because of a recently-discovered glitch on the government’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, better known as the FAFSA.

The problem came to light earlier this month after colleges and universities began noticing lots of applicants with questionable salaries entered in the box marked “Income Earned from Work”. That is, salaries that looked puzzlingly high for students seeking financial aid.

Turns out that thousands of students — apparently trying to respond to the FAFSA with utmost accuracy — entered summer-job or after-school incomes down to the penny. But the form was supposed to accept only whole-dollar amounts.

The result? Incomes of $5,000.19 showed up as $500,019 — an enormous difference, and one that would almost certainly affect eligibility for financial aid.

To correct this glitch, on Monday night the Department of Education planned to re-process about 200,000 forms believed to contain errors. The FAFSA website has already been reprogrammed to drop any fractional dollar amounts entered by mistake.

Even without the technical flubs, government financial aid forms can be so daunting that two senators have floated a proposal to edit the 108-question FAFSA form down to just two: What is your parents’ income? And how many people are in your family?

Not surprisingly, the schools most affected by the student-income mistake are those that admit the largest number of lower-income kids. So if you submitted a FAFSA for the 2014-’15 school year, be on the lookout for a notice about your Student Aid Report.

It will look something like this:

This SAR was produced because an analysis we conducted on the information you reported on your application indicates you may have made an error which could affect your eligibility for federal student aid. Review all financial fields and make any necessary corrections.”

P.S., says the government, if you’ve already been granted financial aid, your college-of-choice may need to amend the amount.

Welcome to the machine, kids.

Comments | More in News | Topics: FAFSA, financial aid, higher ed


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