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FAFSA complications delay UNC-Chapel Hill financial aid packages

The Old Well at UNC Chapel Hill, fall 2022.
Liz Schlemmer
Although UNC-Chapel Hill has released its admissions decisions, the university hasn’t been able to make any financial aid offers.

Complications with the form college-bound students fill out to qualify for federal financial aid are delaying university financial aid packages.

The U.S. Department of Education redesigned its Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) this year to simplify the process.

Instead, students filling out the form have had several problems, including being blocked from completing it. This has led to delays in universities receiving applicant data.

On Wednesday, several college leaders testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and the Workforce about these issues, including UNC-Chapel Hill's Vice Provost for Enrollment Rachelle Feldman.

Feldman said her office was six months behind schedule and has only received 60% of the applications they would have in a normal year. Of those applications, nearly half need to be reprocessed and 20% have been outright rejected.

Although UNC-Chapel Hill has released its admissions decisions, the university hasn’t been able to make any financial aid offers, according to Feldman.

“My colleagues have talked about how rocky the FAFSA launch was when it came three months late,” Feldman said. “Meanwhile, we had schools that were not receiving any data from the submitted forms and struggled to help families and students complete it … we feel like we’re flying blind without a clear path.”

Last year, UNC-Chapel Hill announced a new financial aid program that covers tuition and fees for incoming students with household incomes of $80,000 or less. But, Feldman said, the university cannot let students know if they qualify for it until they receive full FAFSA information.

“Our financial aid professionals in schools feel like the rug keeps getting yanked out from under them,” Feldman said. “And if they feel like that, imagine how our first generation families and students feel.”

Feldman said those first-generation students, along with low-income, rural and students of immigrant parents are hurt the most by the FAFSA delay.

“(Students) who’ve heard all their life that college is out of their reach,” Feldman said. “They’ve worked hard for 12 years, but all the voices around them are saying they can’t afford it. And we can’t get them the document that proves they can.”

UNC-Chapel Hill has pushed its enrollment acceptance deadline back two weeks, to May 15. Several other universities in North Carolina have also pushed their deadlines back in the wake of FAFSA delays.

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC’s 2024 Fletcher Fellow and covers higher education in partnership with Open Campus.
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