FAFSA delays force UP to push back admissions deadline

By Ethan Sanders | May 1, 2024 1:00pm
Glitches with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) have impacted both prospective and current college students across the country, with FAFSA filings down nearly 50% nationwide. Graphic by Janea Melido.

Glitches with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) have impacted both prospective and current college students across the country, with FAFSA filings down nearly 50% nationwide. 

The University of Portland has pushed the enrollment confirmation date back to June to ensure the 65% of the student population that files a FAFSA are able to do so. 

The FAFSA is traditionally available in October for both prospective and current students, but changes to the form via the Department of Education pushed this date back to Dec. 31. 

Additionally, when many students attempted to fill out the form once it was available, glitches prevented a large portion of them from completing it. 

“That's been one of the biggest issues that we’ve faced as an institution but certainly, all colleges and universities in the United States that have students who file FAFSAs, which most of us do,” Vice President of Enrollment Management Xiong-Chan said. “Additionally, since they got the website up and running, as students were able to complete a FAFSA, there still remains an issue for students who are of mixed citizenship to be able to submit a FAFSA, they've resolved some of the issues but not all of it.”

Xiong-Chan sat down with The Beacon to answer important questions about these glitches’ impact on admissions and the student body, as well as resources for prospective and current students to help navigate these issues. 

Is there anything particularly glaring that you've seen this year with admissions that you think have something to do with the FAFSA issues?

“There are issues that are occurring but they are somewhat invisible to us. I think families are concerned about the first step particularly for prospective students, as over 65% of our incoming first years who eventually enroll at our institution submit a FAFSA to us. Once they do in October, we get their financial aid out to them later that winter… Because we were not able to practice that this year, we have lots of students out there who applied to UP who are still either making different choices or have been really concerned or anxious in a way that they would not have been if things were still similar to last year because we would have been able to get a financial aid award letter to them. We really want students when they deposit our institution to feel really strongly that this is the best fit not just academically and socially but also financially for their families.”

Has an admissions deadline ever been pushed back this far?

“During the pandemic, particularly that first year of the pandemic, in the 2020-21 academic year or admission cycle, most colleges nationally did push their confirmation deadline out a month or even two months; some colleges just went ahead and did away with it. UP did allow for deposits to push to June 1 at the height of the pandemic. So, it's not unprecedented for us to do this. Additionally, we chose to do it this year once we heard that the FAFSA had really had a very difficult, hard launch, and that students had not been able to successfully complete the FAFSA. Right when it opened. It was unpredictable at that time how quickly these issues with the FAFSA would be corrected by the Department of Education. So knowing that FAFSA and financial aid impacts 90% of our families that choose UP and that attend UP we wanted to make sure that we were giving families ample time to make that decision. And very shortly after we announced the June 1 confirmation date, it became a national trend.” 

Nationally, FAFSA filings are down nearly 50% in the senior class, compared to last year. It was 1.5 million last year and around 750,000 this year. Have you noticed similar trends at UP this year?

“Traditionally, when the FAFSA opened in October, we had all that runway to collect the information. The FAFSA opened with  a lot of glitches at the end of December, early January, so students have just had less time to submit. That doesn't even count all those students who just for whatever reason, based on their demographic background have been unable to successfully submit a FAFSA. Those two are definitely huge contributing factors to what we see nationally.. So part of it is time. Part of it is just the glitches, some of which have not been fixed for lots of families… For UP it's actually still too early to tell because we have just started being able to download FAFSAs as of last week due to Department of Education changes, and miscalculations and then also our software vendor being prepared for all of these last minute changes the Department of Ed threw our way. It's not unique. I think all colleges are struggling in the same way because nobody else has a specific pipeline right to the Department of Ed. These changes have impacted all of us, no matter what kind of college or university we are and no matter which software vendor we use for faster calculation, downloading and financial aid calculations.”

Beyond extending the deadline, what measures is UP taking to help students through this situation? Are there any resources that prospective students should be looking for to help them through this all?

“For prospective students we moved the confirmation date to June 1. We are also planning to host two Weekend on the Bluff events, where we invite all admitted seniors to UP to enjoy campus overnight. We're bringing the overnight program back for the first time since COVID. And in those two events, most of the students will not have aid, which is just bizarre for us, because in the past, they all did have aid… We're really going to make sure that we  \are talking about financial aid, about filing a FAFSA, about next steps in the way that we have not done in the past with this group. Student Affairs is going to hold, for the first time, early orientation, which does not take the place of the August orientation but it's really a primer for orientation in August. They are running five dates for prospective students as well. I know financial aid is going to be a part of that programming as well as how to engage and kick off your new fall year at UP as a new student as successfully as possible.” 

What about current students?

“For current students. We are making sure that we're communicating through newsletters and email blasts. We are going to try to package prospective students and first year students simultaneously which we have not traditionally needed to do. So there'll be a little bit of delay here and there as we kind of navigate this new normal but our current students are just as important as our prospective students coming in and so we have not forgotten about prospective students, we will be packaging their aid as soon as possible, as well. But we really want to make sure current students are still filing a FAFSA… Even if they didn't file a FAFSA last year, they should file one this year. You know the whole precipice for changing the FAFSA was to try to make more students eligible for aid, not just new incoming students, but current college students as well. I think it's really important that current students know that, to take 15 minutes to file a FAFSA could qualify them for $500, $1000, or even $10,000 more of aid that they didn't get before, especially if they've never filed before they're eligible to file a FAFSA.” 

Ethan Sanders is a reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at sanders25@up.edu