Problem with online FASFA can costs students financial aid

Nicole Montero / Staff Writer

The updated version of this year’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid becomes a problem when it interprets low-income filers as millionaires— possibly costing students a large portion of their financial aid. The problem stems from a decimal point.

This year, the government expanded the application— adding several income and asset fields in the online form to further accommodate filers with higher incomes. However, when lower-income filers missed the .00 outside of the field and began entering cents into the text field, the online form converted an income of, for example, $50,250.25 into $5,025,025.

The problem has already affected thousands of filers across the country, including 247 students at FIU.

The Department of Education reprocessed the FAFSA for students who they thought might have been affected by this problem. The instructions for the Financial Aid office was to sort through the list of students and fix their information.

“They told us that there may be a problem with somebody’s income information that could be causing students to either be under-awarded or over-awarded and we needed to look through them—so that’s what we did,” said Francisco Valines, FIU director of Financial Aid.


Data courtesy of Francisco Valines

Valines and his team at the Financial Aid office looked through the applications of each student that the department of education recommended and sorted the students by year. They came up with a group of 247 undergraduate students.

“This group clearly had an issue, so we sent them all a notice saying that we needed more information — their tax transcripts and their W2s — to see what their income was and to see if it’s any different than what we had on the form,” Valines said. “The decimal points might not have gotten picked up.”

The response of the students, according to Valines, was slow, with only 47 of the 247 students turning in their updated income information before the start of fall semester.

The good news for the other 200 students who have yet to fix their income issue is that the financial office has left their award in place— that way they are not dropped from any upcoming courses.

“Basically, we just put a hold on their disbursement but they still have their award if they already accepted it,” said Valines. “One of the great things about FIU is that, once the student accepts their award, their classes are held because the anticipated aid holds it and prevents them from getting dropped.”

Valines says that this problem occurred because it is the first time where the filer is allowed to use a decimal point and cents in a field for the FAFSA application. Prior to this year, the application required filers to round to the nearest whole number.

Melissa Campaña, sophomore nursing major, disapproves of the new update in the FAFSA application and understands how it can confuse other filers.

“If this were to have happened to me, I would’ve been incredibly upset— especially if there was a chance that, if I wouldn’t have been able to pay out-of-pocket, I could be dropped from my classes,” she said.

Junior Evelyn Hernandez, an education major, agrees with Campaña and has had personal issues with the Financial Aid department in the past.

“I feel like there’s always something wrong and there’s always a problem with my information,” she said. “Every time fall semester comes around I feel like I’m holding my breath for something to go wrong, for someone to tell me that I don’t have enough aid or that I missed a deadline. I check the myFIU portal throughout the summer and I still feel like someone’s gonna mess something up.”

But, even with this problem, the number of students awarded gets larger every year.

Valines said that with the growing student population, the number of loan, employment and grant awards will increase every academic year.

“That number is going to keep increasing, even if there continue to be problems with the online form,” he said. “Students just need to check their portals and check their to-do lists so that there are no surprises.”

About the Author

Camila Fernandez
A FIU School of Journalism and Mass Communications Student - Began working with Student Media in 2013.

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