Nonprofit and Not Playing

Faith SandlerFinancial Aid, Words of Faith

This year, the new and “simplified” Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a nightmare. Though laudable in concept, a promised overhaul of the method and shortening of the form has been badly botched in implementation.

The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis is not playing. For us this is not a game. We want the White House and the U.S. Department of Education, Congress, the colleges, and our colleagues to acknowledge the urgency and the human cost of failure and focus whatever resources are necessary NOW to fix FAFSA for real.

In very short order, the issues of how bad it really is and why this has happened have become rancorous and partisan. And I’m sorry to say “We told you so” (but we did).

We are both advocates and nonpartisan.

When we speak out on need-based aid, tuition equity for undocumented students, and racial equity in higher education some see that as partisan. Not so. At The Scholarship Foundation our mission and the experiences of our students compel our positions on policy matters, NOT political parties.

We saw the FAFSA nightmare coming and said so.

As an organization, we provided input years ago toward the redesign of the form. We raised questions and red flags over the last year with the U.S. Department of Education. Foreseeing an application season fraught with challenges, we have in recent months offered training to partner organizations, expanded our capacity to advise students and families individually, issued public alerts to students, and most recently extended our application deadline by a full month. Since the new FAFSA launched with a sputter three months late on December 30, 2023 we have documented glitches and delays that hurt most the very students who most need support. We have spoken out in local, regional, and national media in an effort to tell the truth and reach those who need to know.

We are serious and focused in our commitment to students.

Hardest hit by the dysfunction and delay of the new FAFSA are those: first in family to consider college; from low-income households; and priced out by systems not designed to serve them. FAFSA is, after all, a form intended to estimate financial need. As is the case with college admissions testing, students from households with sufficient wealth to cover college costs need not be concerned that this will deter them. For students without such wealth, FAFSA is the gateway to educational opportunity and right now it is locked shut. That’s very serious in the lives of young people presently in their last semester of high school.

Join us in being nonpartisan out loud.

Each time our staff sees a glib “FAFSA is open!” graphic or an empty assurance such as “don’t worry-there’s still plenty of time” or colleges making promises that they will award financial aid now without FAFSA, our anxiety levels tick upward. Far too much is uncertain and hidden in the fine print. Realism not empty optimism will best support current students. Perhaps others are unaware, too trusting of government or have enough belief in the motives of college enrollment managers to behave as though there is nothing terribly awry, but we can’t. Majority members of Congress, though, are saying words that could be ours. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) told the press that “The biggest concern is for those high school students who are just now attending college for the first time who have not been through this beforeMany students will likely forgo college because they do not know if they can afford it.” Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) echoed a concern that “students will now have two to three weeks to make decisions about college rather than the months they have had in past years.”

Requiring immediate action and demanding accountability are not inherently partisan.

Of course, the current Democratic administration blames the prior administration and opposing party for budget and staff cuts to the U.S. Department of Education. Equally predictable, Republican leadership in Congress blames inordinate attention to student loan debt relief and a continued work-from-home policy at the department for the blunders in implementation of the new FAFSA. From where we sit as a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, these squabbles are distractions from the current crisis. The students least equipped financially and otherwise to withstand such unprecedented chaos are suffering already and have the most at stake.


– Faith Sandler