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Experts are concerned about potential ‘catastrophic’ declines in college attendance due to mishandling of the FAFSA rollout

Ashnaelle Bijoux on campus (Via Alex Kimmich/Shutterstock)

Ashnaelle Bijoux is facing a major obstacle on her path to college: the FAFSA form. Intended to help students like her afford higher education, it has become a frustrating barrier. Despite multiple attempts, Ashnaelle hasn’t been able to successfully submit it.

“I feel overwhelmed and stressed out,” said the 19-year-old from Norwich, Connecticut. The last time she tried, she almost broke down in tears. “I feel like I’m being held back.”

Typically, high school seniors celebrate their college acceptances around this time of year. However, this spring has been overshadowed by the federal government’s mishandling of the new FAFSA application. Normally, students would have received financial aid offers by May 1, but this year, most are still in the dark. With only three months until fall classes begin, many students don’t know where they’ll attend college or how they’ll afford it.

“We’re asking them to make probably one of the biggest financial decisions — decisions that will profoundly impact their futures — without all the necessary information,” explained Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Ashnaelle Bijoux poses on campus (Via Kendrick Gates/Getty Images)

The FAFSA, formally known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, underwent a major redesign aimed at simplifying and shortening the process. However, missteps by the Education Department have made it more challenging than ever, causing significant delays in college decisions and sparking fears that hundreds of thousands of students may opt out of attending college altogether.

Nationwide, the number of students who have successfully completed the FAFSA is down by 29% compared to last year, with even steeper declines at schools serving more low-income students, as reported by the National College Attainment Network.

Kim Cook, CEO of the Network, recently warned Congress about a potential “catastrophic” decline in college enrollments, which could surpass the drops seen during the pandemic.

For Ashnaelle Bijoux and others like her, the FAFSA issues threaten to undermine the opportunities promised by higher education.

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