Bungled FAFSA rollout delays: Alaska’s High School Story

This year, high school grads are having to wait longer than normal to receive financial aid offers from colleges due to a mismanaged rollout of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

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Students cross Cuddy Quad on their way to class in UAA’s Rasmuson Hall on an early fall day. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

The FAFSA experienced significant revisions to make it easier to fill out and to increase access to Pell Grants, which are need-based awards that students do not have to repay. However, the launch was hampered by delays and complications, and instead of opening on October 1, the form was soft-launched on December 30.

Colleges are still waiting for FAFSA data from the federal government, thus prospective students are waiting for financial aid offers.

“Probably in April is when we’ll be able to have all the information to give students a good idea of what they’ll be eligible for,”

Jennifer Sweitzer, the associate director of financial aid at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Sweitzer visited Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on a recent Saturday to speak with students and parents about the new FAFSA. Jessica Dean, the high school’s college advisor, helped organize the event.

“Typically, everyone kind of knows where they’re going by May 1,” Dean said. “But this year, we’ll see.”

“It’s a huge piece to the puzzle, and with it coming in last, it really is going to be, for our family, the determining factor of where she goes,” she said. “There’s a lot on the line, and these kids just want to make their decisions.”

Alaska consistently has one of the lowest submission rates in the country. Sana Efird, executive director of the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, aims to change that.

“The number one reason we hear for not pursuing a postsecondary program is the cost,” he said. “That’s why the FAFSA is so important.”

The National College Attainment Network reports that more than $6 million in Pell Grant funds remained unclaimed by Alaska high school grads in 2022.

There are misconceptions about the FAFSA being complex and locking students into loans, leading to low completion rates.

Some Alaska students may see alternatives to college, like construction or fishing, as more appealing career paths.

Outmigration and lack of generational college attendance contribute to low college enrollment rates in Alaska

Efforts are underway to assist students with the FAFSA process, including summits, events, and online resources provided by the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education.

While the federal FAFSA deadline is June 30, 2025, other scholarship deadlines may be earlier, urging students to apply as soon as possible.

Universities are adjusting deadlines to accommodate delays in FAFSA processing, providing relief to students like Kyra Wood, one of the Dean’s students.

One-on-one support is available for students and families navigating the FAFSA process through phone, email, or Zoom.

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