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For many Kansas students, financial aid delays are making it hard to plan for college

Students head to class at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.
Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Students head to class at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. KU is one of several Kansas schools that has delayed tuition deposit deadlines because of problems with the FAFSA process this year.

Some high school seniors said they just started receiving financial aid offers this week. And some colleges, including the University of Kansas and Newman University, have pushed back their tuition deposit deadlines because of FAFSA delays.

WICHITA, Kansas — Some Kansas students are scrambling to decide on a college and pay tuition deposits after errors with the application process for federal student aid kept them waiting months longer than usual.

U.S. Department of Education officials said Tuesday that they’ve fixed glitches with the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA, and online applications are being processed quickly.

But some high school seniors said they just started receiving financial aid offers this week — after the traditional May 1 college decision day.

“It has just been a struggle since December,” said Sophia Uriarte, a senior at Wichita East High School. “The website would be crashing, or it would not allow my parents to enter their emails. … It was a mess, honestly.”

Some colleges, including the University of Kansas and Newman University, have pushed back their deposit deadlines because of the FAFSA delays.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate raised concerns about ongoing issues and delays. They said the rocky implementation of the new FAFSA caused a financial aid traffic jam with weighty implications for students, and they worry that the U.S. Department of Education is months behind in its process for next year.

In a telephone call with reporters, Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal said the department has received about 9 million FAFSA submissions since January — far fewer than the roughly 17 million it receives in normal years.

Kvaal said students who complete a FAFSA now can expect their records to be sent to colleges in one to three days. The deadline to apply is June 30.

“We know that many colleges, including the vast majority with impending deadlines, are now sending student aid offers,” Kvaal said.

“We all know how important this is. We will continue to do whatever we can to get students all of the financial aid for which they are entitled, and to help colleges make financial aid offers as quickly as possible.”

Cammie Kennedy, a college and career counselor at Wichita East High, said she has spent a frantic few weeks meeting with seniors and their parents to help them compare aid offers and navigate the application process.

She said the FAFSA application itself is much easier than in past years — which was the reason for the overhaul — but the process started late and remained glitchy.

“They just weren't ready. And because of that, and because of some of their errors, it has delayed students to just now discovering what they really got in aid,” Kennedy said. “A little late. We’ll never say too late because we can always get them in. It’s just getting them to hang in there.”

She said some students have switched colleges after learning their first choice isn’t offering as much financial aid as they had hoped. Others are so frustrated by the process, they’re thinking of delaying college altogether.

“That is the biggest conversation I keep having with these seniors, which is, ‘Just hang in there. Let’s figure it out,’” Kennedy said. “But I have had a couple come in here and they’re like, ‘I’m just gonna wait and I’m gonna go get a job.’ Because this is just a lot.”

East High senior Karen Ochoa applied to several colleges and filed her financial aid form on time. But because of delays at the federal level, she received her first aid offer this week.

Now she’s crunching numbers to figure out what she can afford.

“The scary part about that is that for seniors, our last day is Monday,” Ochoa said. “So it’s kind of like everything’s coming at you at once.”

Kennedy, the East High counselor, said students and their families can continue working with college counselors after graduation to finalize forms or compare aid offers.

“They need to come because we know what to do, and we can assist them through this process,” she said. “If they just utilize this office, we can help them at least find an alternative pathway or the right pathway for them.”

Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KMUW, KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.
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