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During Phoenix visit, U.S. Education secretary promises to fix FAFSA glitches

Students filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid this year  faced serious glitches and delays as the U.S. Department of Education tried to update its system. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona addressed the botched rollout and promised solutions during a visit to Phoenix on Friday.

Speaking to students at a FAFSA workshop at South Mountain Community College, Cardona acknowledged this year’s applications had come with major challenges. He thanked advisers for helping students work through it.

He said these meetings with students and educators are part of his plan to improve the process for next year.

"I’m meeting with financial aid directors, college presidents, students, parents, to find out how their experiences were. We have an external group that we’re contracting with to do a more comprehensive look, I’m even talking to the Office of Inspector General and saying, ‘look, we welcome your input,'" Cardona said. 

In a letter this week to Department of Education staff, Cardona outlined a plan for a full-scale review of Federal Student Aid management. In addition to hiring an outside consulting firm to make recommendations for the program, Cardona said he plans to bring on a new Chief Operating Officer for Federal Student Aid. 

“I’m committed to getting to the root of the issues. For me, it was unacceptable that students had to wait so long, and colleges had to wait so long,”  Cardona said. 

Arizona's FAFSA completion rate was already below the national average, but amid this year's problems, even fewer Arizona students completed the application. As of last week, just 39% percent of the state's high school seniors had submitted the FAFSA, a 17% drop from the same point last year,  according to the U.S. Department of Education

Cardona said the goal to modernize and streamline the financial aid application process will still be worthwhile if it eventually allows more students to access higher education.

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.