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Education secretary Miguel Cardona and his department have come under intense scrutiny from lawmakers and college officials alike for the bungled rollout of the new FAFSA.

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The notoriously rocky rollout of the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA)keeps getting rockier.

On Friday, the Education Department acknowledged that a calculation error by the office of Federal Student Aid led to inaccurate aid estimates on hundreds of thousands of Institutional Student Information Records, or ISIRs, processed in the past few months.

“The FAFSA Processing System (FPS) was not including all data fields needed to correctly calculate the Student Aid Index for dependent students who reported assets,” the department wrote in an announcement. “This issue resulted in inaccurate ISIRs for dependent students with assets delivered to [institutions] prior to March 21, 2024.”

The announcement—buried five paragraphs into an ostensibly positive update about the department’s progress on student aid form delivery—reported that of the 1.5 million FAFSAs currently processed, about 200,000, were affected by the miscalculation, resulting in lower aid estimates for those students. All those forms will need to be reprocessed and re-sent to institutions, almost certainly delaying aid offers even further.

In the meantime, the department recommended that colleges recalculate affected students’ SAIs manually and send them general estimates using those numbers—an arduous task for financial aid offices already inundated with a backlog of FAFSAs and a tsunami of questions from confused parents.

Colleges began receiving small batches of ISIRs last week, but the pace of the delivery—and technical issues with software built to receive the student aid data—hampered progress. The latest mistake could further hamstring institutions racing against the calendar to get admitted students accurate financial aid offers before May.

Justin Draeger, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, bemoaned the department’s latest miscalculation as “another unforced error that will likely cause more processing delays for students.”

“At this stage in the game and after so many delays, every error adds up and will be felt acutely by every student who is counting on need-based financial aid to make their postsecondary dreams a reality,” he wrote in a statement.

The number of students completing the FAFSA is also down significantly compared to previous cycles. According to data from the National College Attainment Network, as of March 15, only 32 percent of the high school graduating class of 2024 had submitted a form, a decline of more than 30 percent from this time last year.

Draeger also dismissed the department’s suggestion that colleges should, or even could, manually recalculate their affected students’ ISIRs while they await the reprocessed forms.

“Schools can only work with valid and correct data that is provided to them from the U.S. Department of Education,” Draeger wrote. “It is not feasible or realistic to send out incorrect FAFSA data and ask thousands of schools to make real-time calculations and adjustments to the federal formula on the school side.”

The hiccup is the latest in a long line of mistakes and delays that have vexed financial aid offices and disrupted college admissions timelines, forcing many institutions to push back their commitment deadlines.

The department had previously made several calculation errors while rolling out the form, including failing to account for historic inflation; introducing a formula error that would have mistakenly expanded PELL eligibility, which Congress intervened to fix; and inadvertently creating a glitch that prevented students in mixed-citizenship status families from filling out the form, an issue that took months to address and has still been only partially fixed.

The department is also drawing more scrutiny from congressional Republicans, who have been highly critical of its handling of the FAFSA overhaul, calling for hearings and investigations. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana added the latest setback to his long list of FAFSA grievances on Friday, writing in a statement that the department’s “blunders are having real consequences for students.”

“They were supposed to get it done right the first time, and they were supposed to get it done three months ago,” Cassidy said in an accompanying video posted to X. “We need more accountability, responsibility and competence from the department of education.”

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