Make your home page

Frustrations grow as feds launch probe of FAFSA portal

Investigation launched into Fafsa delays

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — The mother of a high school senior on Thursday said the new federal student financial aid portal has been anything but fast and easy.

Andrea Ratcliff’s son will graduate this spring. She said when she first logged into the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) portal in December, the system didn’t correctly record her user name and password, so she had to reset it.

Next, she accidentally submitted an application for the 2023-2024 school year rather than the 2024-2025 year. She said she was surprised the system even had that option to begin with, let alone not providing some sort of error message when she input her son’s graduation date.

She said she thinks she finally got the application right but she doesn’t have an easy way to find out. That’s because the system requires separate accounts for parents and students.

“I can’t really see anything. I have to go in through my kid’s account, which technically, you’re not supposed to log in as your child. You’re supposed to do it on your own,” she said. “So it just kind of leaves you with no information from the parent side of things.”

Ratcliff was just one of the many parents across the country who have complained about the new FAFSA portal. A law approved by Congress in 2020 required the U.S. Department of Education to create a new, simpler FAFSA application process. The new website was originally scheduled to go live in October, when FAFSA applications begin. It did not finally go live until January and problems continued after that.

The federal Government Accountability Office has now launched an investigation at the request of Republican members of Congress. GAO officials told News 8 their investigation will eventually produce two reports, one reviewing the information technology aspects of the problem and the other concerning general rollout and execution.

Congresswoman Erin Houchin, R-Indiana, serves on the House Higher Education Subcommittee and was among the lawmakers who requested the GAO probe. She said one of her own daughters is applying for college and had to try the portal four or five times to get the application through. Houchin said the portal’s performance is unacceptable, especially given how long the department had to work on it.

“The rollout has been disastrous,” she said. “First and foremost, we need answers, but before we can get answers to this, we need to make sure that they’re getting things together as quickly as possible so that these students can make these very difficult decisions on what college they might like to attend and if they can afford to do so.”

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education said federal officials have told them to expect FAFSA data in early March. Commission officials criticized the Department of Education‘s rollout in a statement.

“We are disappointed in how the United States Department of Education (ED) has rolled out FAFSA simplification. They had three years to implement the changes required by Congress and there is no excuse for the delays families, schools, and states are experiencing. With that said, despite the hiccups, the FAFSA application is much easier to file, and we encourage all families to file as soon as possible.”

When asked about the GAO probe, a Department of Education spokesperson said only, “The Department is in receipt of GAO’s engagements and will be cooperating.”

Higher education officials said the FAFSA portal problems affect not only prospective students but also current students. Steven Schuetz, the University of Indianapolis’ interim vice president for enrollment management, said current students have to resubmit FAFSA applications every year in order to continue receiving financial aid throughout their college careers. He said universities likely won’t be able to inform students of any financial awards before April.

“It just seems like every month, there’s some change in the information, some delay in the timeline, when we do get information it’s incomplete,” he said, “and so it really tests our ability to prepare in a way that we would like to prepare.”

Schuetz says the delays probably won’t affect eligibility for financial aid. He said families should contact any college they’ve applied to for updates about the FAFSA situation.

Houchin says constituents facing FAFSA trouble should contact her office as well. She says people should provide her office as much information as they can, including the personal identification numbers they received when they created their profiles in the portal.