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FAFSA problems have been felt more in Arizona than in other states

A federal financial aid application.
Richard Stephen/Getty Images
A federal financial aid application.

This year, students across the country have been affected by problems with the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, known as FAFSA. But, some of the impacts have been felt more in Arizona than elsewhere.

Keetra Bippus is a reporter for Cronkite News. The Show spoke with her about what she found, starting with some background on overall delays with FAFSA, and how it’s been an issue for students nationwide.

Keetra Bippus headshot
Keetra Bippus
Keetra Bippus

Full conversation

KEETRA BIPPUS: So the FAFSA is a free application for Federal student Aid. So it's something that I think most universities use to determine how much aid a student needs to attend college. And universities also use it to determine how much aid to give the students. States use it. So the FAFSA was actually, it was supposed to be, I think it was called the FAFSA Simplification Act, which is kind of ironic. So they redid that for this coming school year and delayed the release of, normally it's available in October. But now it was available December 31, 2023. And so that just was the first delay, that one was more scheduled.

After that, there actually was another delay in, where universities were expecting to receive the information from FAFSA so they could help determine financial aid packages for students towards the end of January. But then it ended up being closer to March. So universities, including NAU, ASU and UA, pushed back their priority application deadline. And so it was kind of just delays, glitches, impacting students everywhere who were trying to get federal state and university aid.

MARK BRODIE: So you and your colleague found that this does seem to be impacting maybe more incoming college students in Arizona than elsewhere. Are there particular reasons for that? Like why is this hitting students here more than maybe other places?

BIPPUS: I do not think that we were able to discover that with the data. In Arizona though, students tend to fill it out at lower rates than the rest of the country. It hovers between like 40%, less than 50%, while nationwide it's around above 50%, close to 60%. But this year, it was, we're still at about, according to the most recent data, we're still just below 30%, while nationwide it's much higher than that. I don't know the exact reason for why though, we couldn't find that out.

BRODIE: Sure. What kind of impact is that having on students who are looking to go to one of Arizona's public universities? Yeah, so it's definitely I think very frustrating for students. Some people I were talking to, I was talking to, were saying especially for first generation students who are already, you know, this is a whole new process applying for school, applying for aid delays and such like that may just be extra discouraging for students who are filling it out for the first time. And they can't even know if they have enough money to go to school.

So they worry that it might cause for some students to just decide not to go to college at all and just, I think the delay is very stressful for students if they can't make a decision until a few months before they go to school, they might have their acceptance letters but they don't know if they can actually afford to go.

BRODIE: What did you hear from students, as you say, some of whom maybe don't know if they will be able to get enough money to afford to go to school or where they might go to school or, or things like that.

BIPPUS: Yeah. So for some students, they were actually fortunately were able to fill it out without too many problems. But I do know for some students they're still trying to fill out the FAFSA form and I think that it did cause just extra work and extra stress for them, you know, stay in contact with universities because they had to delay their acceptance of their application. So I think it just made it a lot more difficult and a lot more stressful.

BRODIE: Did the schools do anything to try to help those students in terms of either, you know, making an extra phone call or were they flexible in terms of delaying deadlines and things like that?

BIPPUS: Yeah. So I think a lot of universities especially, or a lot, the universities in Arizona, they delayed their priority application deadline, which basically means like if you apply by this deadline, you're more guaranteed to get more aid. Basically, they delayed those by, some delayed it by a couple of months. Just to make sure that students weren't too impacted by the delays by, you know, extending that deadline. As well as I was looking at some of their like websites and policies, and it seemed like they were a lot more flexible with students who were, who were impacted by delays, I think with acceptance and things like that.

BRODIE: It seems like there have been other efforts as well to try to help students who are in this position. I mean, the state has tried to help, as we just talked about, the universities, like, does it seem as though there's resolution, like, are there still students now in June who don't know if they're going to be able to afford to go to college here because they don't know what their FAFSA award might be?

BIPPUS: Yeah, I think that's definitely still the case for some students. When I was talking to people in May, some student, I was talking to a academic advisor at a high school in Flagstaff and he was mentioning he was still trying to help students who had graduated but they still were not able to complete the FASFA. So I think it's definitely still impacting students.

I think that the efforts made by the state have helped it did lead to an increase in the percentage of seniors who are graduating who completed the form, but it's still levels much, much lower than what we typically see.

KJZZ’s The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ’s programming is the audio record.

Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.
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