May 31, 2024

Senator Ricketts’ Weekly Column: President Biden’s FAFSA Fiasco

May 31, 2024

Each year, millions of students and their families make the very important decision of whether or where to attend college. For many, it’s the biggest decision they will make in their lives to date. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form gives them crucial information about what aid they qualify for. This includes federal student loans, Pell Grants, and work-study programs. Families rely on this aid to afford higher education. President Biden’s Department of Education promised an improved FAFSA form. Instead, Biden’s administration delivered a fiasco that continues to hurt students today. I’m working to help Nebraska students and their families navigate this chaos.

For over three years, the Department of Education (ED) claimed to have been working on a “simplified and improved” FAFSA form. Last March, ED said they would release the new form by December. This was the first of many delays. Normally, the form comes out by October 1st so students can get working on it right away.

In November, ED delayed the release until the end of December. December is nearly three months after the normal release date. They had a soft launch on December 30th, but major problems erupted. Students and parents faced numerous issues, from website crashes to incorrect forms to a lack of support from Department staff.

Additionally, the new form included new rules punishing the children of family farms and small businesses by counting illiquid assets towards parental contributions. These changes could force them to sell off assets or dismantle their businesses to send their children to college. I’m co-leading the Family Farm and Small Business Exemption Act to fix this.

I’ve heard from many Nebraskans about their struggles to navigate this chaos. One family from Ord tried to apply online for several days. Each time they tried, the website crashed. Another Nebraskan told me they tried to make corrections to their FAFSA form before a deadline. However, there was no place on the form to make corrections. Each time they called ED to ask for help, no one had an answer.

A family from Geneva contacted me in February. They had repeatedly called to ask questions about the process, in particular state and local grants. Most of their calls had gone unanswered. When they did get through, they got no help.

That’s terrible customer service. It’s exactly what’s wrong with a massive, unaccountable federal government bureaucracy. The federal government should put the taxpayer first, always. 

The Department of Education didn’t send FAFSA information to colleges until the first half of March. That’s more than one month later than expected. It’s also around the time schools usually send financial aid award letters to prospective students. Even after this delay, students and families continued to experience errors and glitches. College and universities were forced to consider pushing back admissions and commitment deadlines to give students more time to make decisions. The University of Nebraska at Lincoln extended their deadline to May 15. Not every college was able to make that choice.

The Biden administration’s incompetence has serious consequences. Some students have been forced to make their college decision and pay a deposit without knowing exactly how much college will cost them. That’s terrible. 

We wouldn’t buy a house or car without knowing the cost. We shouldn’t pressure families to commit to a college or university without knowing the cost also.

We should do everything we can to make it easier for taxpayers to access and navigate government services. Instead, the Biden Department of Education has prioritized an illegal student loan forgiveness program. These illegal student loan “bailouts” will make Nebraska plumbers and welders pay the student loans of doctors and lawyers. ED’s bureaucrats have also tried to undo important protections for women athletes. It’s unconscionable incompetence. I’m fighting to get answers and relief for our students and their families. Their future depends on it.

My team and I are here to serve you. If you’re experiencing FAFSA issues, contact us anytime by phone at 202-224-4224. You can also view my website at www.ricketts.senate.gov/contact.