If you can’t determine how much college is going to cost you, how can you reasonably plan to go to college?

It’s a question plaguing many young Mainers right now. The federal legislation that led to the chaos ongoing in federal student aid applications, was named, remarkably, the FAFSA Simplification Act. We know now that it has done anything but simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

A delay of three months to launch followed by all manner of “glitches” and “technical issues” has left a whole cohort of college hopefuls high and dry.

As the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram reported last week, FAFSA submissions in Maine are down 23% from the 8,000 or so students who had applied by this time last year. On its face, that’s a terrible outcome – and one that should have been avoided.

The revised FAFSA application form was intended to make life easier for low- and moderate-income households. Cruelly, it is this group that will bear the brunt of the botched rollout.

“It’s the more vulnerable students and those who are more on the border of going to college or not that are most likely to be impacted by this,” Sandy Baum, a higher-education finance expert and a senior fellow at Urban Institute’s Center of Education Data and Policy, told the paper.

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The University of Maine System is to be commended for extending its application deadlines for all schools to June 1 in response to the delay in getting students’ FAFSA information. While Bates, Bowdoin and Colby have not, they say their process of establishing student need relies on other factors.

Nationwide, FAFSA applications are down 36%. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 85% of American college students receive some financial aid.

That the Education Department’s mismanagement of an upgrade to an online form – over three years – would be responsible for a decline in applications for student aid, and in turn responsible for a decline in college enrollment, limiting the high school Class of 2024 and hurting weaker colleges financially in the process, is dire indeed.

Questioning Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins went further last week, calling the fiasco “inexcusable” and requesting a formal apology. “The fact is that students in my state have been up in the air … they don’t know what package of assistance they’re going to receive,” Collins said.

She singled out the importance of the FAFSA system to first-generation college students, reflecting on her time as an employee of Husson University in Bangor, where she had a front-row seat to the “real-life consequences” of federal aid.

Our students should be able to make informed decisions about their future, on time. After apologizing, Cardona and his colleagues must take every action available to them to remedy the situation.


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