Others say

OTHERS SAY: Applying for financial aid ought not be this big of a mess

The federal government had supposedly made it much easier to apply for college financial aid. Except there was a glitch and students could not access the new online tool they needed. Applications were delayed by months, and the numbers of students seeking aid plunged.

That's the scene in 2024. No, wait, that was 2017. Actually, it's both.

It seems as though each time the dreaded Free Application for Federal Student Aid is made easier, it (temporarily) gets a lot worse. Never has the problem been bigger than this year, when colleges have been forced to put off their application deadlines to allow more students to work their way through the impossibly mangled FAFSA system, when they can at all.

Students are getting stuck in repeating loops, or told by the website that they already have accounts when they don't, and if they try to access this unheard-of account, they can't. Some parents who don't have Social Security numbers find they can get through the system without one. Others can't.

This week, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the department would soften many of the requirements for income verification, a complicated process for colleges that shouldn't be necessary anyway, since the new system uses families' federal tax returns. He's also lowering other bureaucratic hurdles.

It's a good start, but not nearly enough. Cardona should hire a host of quickly trained people to answer phones or work with families online to fill out their paperwork then and there. He also must stand prepared to offer additional financial aid to students who miss their colleges' deadlines through no fault of their own.

Above all, the public is owed an explanation of what appears to be a bungled rollout of the new system.

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