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An assortment of wooden blocks that spell "FAFSA."

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I have worked in financial aid for more than 15 years and currently serve as a director of financial aid. Aid administrators are some of the most hardworking and caring people I have ever met, even though it is largely a thankless job. This year, we’ve been the ones left picking up the pieces of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid debacle. In my career, I have never seen such a catastrophic letdown of both students and aid administrators.

You might ask why this happened. Unfortunately, I do not have all the answers, nor do I want to point fingers. I know the goal was clear: to simplify the FAFSA, making the process easier for those involved. Instead, it became way more complicated. This thing called FAFSA simplification broke both the FAFSA and my spirit.

It has become a mantra for me to state that the only constant in financial aid is change. Whether it is changing regulations, systems, institutional policies or aid programs, there is always something to learn. My goal when the FAFSA launches in October (during normal years) is to have our system, forms and processes ready so we can start uploading student FAFSA submissions by early November. After that, we scramble to create financial aid offers to send them out by early December.

During this 2024–25 cycle, all our plans and preparations went to hell. For the past couple of years, we were warned of major changes happening through the FAFSA simplification process. We had training after training to make sure we were ready. Unfortunately, no training could have prepared us for the fiasco that took place this year.

Initially, we were told that the FAFSA would not launch in early October. There was no other date provided, only that it had to be available before the end of 2023.

When the FAFSA finally became available, on Dec. 30, students were met with massive glitches and periods when the application was taken entirely off-line. Some students were blocked from completing the form and, when they logged back in, found their progress was completely lost. Others called in to the FAFSA help line and were met with hours-long wait times, only to be hung up on or to be told the help line couldn’t help.

In a typical year, I would estimate that the prepared families I assist are able to submit the FAFSA 95 percent of the time. In January of this year, I would estimate that fewer than 33 percent of the prepared families I assisted were able to actually submit the form. Often times, I had no explanation for families, as the form would be taken off-line, be beset by technical glitches, or would lose a student’s progress. At FAFSA completion events, I apologized to family after family for the problems. I reassured them any delays beyond their control would not be held against them at my institution. I was terrified that families would begin to blame my team for the FAFSA issues they were facing. Most families have been completely understanding toward aid administrators. This only makes me feel worse that I could not help them to my normal abilities.

We are now months into the FAFSA launch and many of our students are still not able to submit or update their FAFSA because the form is still not working properly. Currently, we are almost nine months past the regular FAFSA opening and the academic year begins in two months. At this time, students who submitted paper FAFSAs still have not had theirs processed and colleges are unable to submit required corrections and updates to a student’s FAFSA.

A vital part of the college-selection process is making an informed decision. The ongoing FAFSA issues mean there are students who still do not know how they can finance their education.

Everything we have been through has caused me to go through massive burnout. I have no more energy to keep up with the constant changes and new problems that arise. On top of the FAFSA, I still have other work: audits, reporting, and gainful-employment requirements. Since January, I have barely gotten a full night’s rest. I am overwhelmed and am unable to keep up with my expanded workload. This has caused me to feel like a failure at a career I once took great pride in.

There is only so much juggling that can be done before the balls begin to drop. When that happens, everyone loses, and the student is the one hurt. How many students will make a poor financial decision this year because they could not understand the cost of their education? How many students gave up on the idea of college because they could not figure out a broken FAFSA? How many aid administrators will leave the field because they feel like they were abandoned or blamed even as they did the best they could to help those students?

So what do I need to move forward? Let’s start with an apology. Not to me, but to everyone who was involved with the FAFSA. Something that could help me begin moving forward would include a message from the U.S. Department of Education/Office of Federal Student Aid stating something along these lines:

“I am sorry to all those who experienced issues with the FAFSA this year. I am sorry this process we had years to prepare for has caused so much stress for students. We want to thank the financial aid administrators for doing what they could to make the best of a terrible situation. I want to promise you that this will never happen again and that we will do a better job of communicating any issues with the FAFSA moving forward.

“In the meantime, I want to help reduce your greatly increased workload and stress. First, colleges will be able to make corrections and updates to students’ FAFSA records immediately. This will help a large number of students complete the process and finally receive their financial aid offers. Second, I am postponing the burdensome gainful-employment and financial value transparency regulations one year, to go into effect in the 2025–26 year instead. Hopefully these changes will allow you a moment to feel like you can breathe again.”

Would any of that actually help? I don’t know. Many of my colleagues at other institutions have had it worse. I still feel broken at work. Perhaps this would validate my feelings and maybe allow me just a little bit of time to begin to heal. All that I really know is any further issues will result in me continuing my job search outside of financial aid.

The author is a director of financial aid at a public U.S. higher education institution.

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