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FAFSA problems meant fewer Kansas City seniors applied for financial aid. But it’s not too late

Kansas City Public Schools held “FAFSA Frenzy” events at Manual Career and Technical Center in March 2024 to help students and families complete their federal aid applications.
Jodi Fortino/KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Public Schools held “FAFSA Frenzy” events at Manual Career and Technical Center in March 2024 to help students and families complete their federal aid applications.

College classes start in just a few weeks, but it’s not too late for Kansas City-area students to apply for federal aid for the coming school year.

This year’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid was supposed to be streamlined and easier to complete. Instead, the rollout was marked by glitches and delays that complicated the process.

The Missouri College and Career Attainment Network is holding sessions every Monday in July to help. Camry Ivory, the network’s Kansas City FAFSA consultant, said it should be easier for students to complete after updates and more familiarity with the new version since its launch.

“There's still hope,” Ivory said. “If you connect with us, we are dedicated to pushing through and helping students get to the finish line.”

While many colleges’ priority deadlines passed, college advisors said students are still eligible to receive federal financial aid — like Pell Grants, work-study programs and student loans — as long as they complete the FAFSA before June 30 of next year.

The new application was especially difficult for students with a different citizenship or immigration status than their parents. For two months after the application’s full launch in January, students with parents who don’t have a Social Security number could not complete the application.

The Office of Federal Student Aid announced in March that it fixed that issue but it still anticipated some glitches. The application’s delays also pushed back colleges’ financial assistance offers, leaving many students' post-high school plans in limbo.

So far, 12% fewer seniors in Missouri completed the FAFSA this year than last year, according to the National College Attainment Network. Ivory said that gap is narrowing, but the number of students completing the application has plateaued since summer started.

“Even though school is out, even though you may not have direct access to your counselors and teachers, there are people in the community who are here to help you,” Ivory said.

Ivory said the pattern of who’s completing this year’s FAFSA is consistent with previous years — high schools with higher income and less diverse populations tend to complete the application at higher rates because they have more resources.

Ahead of the summer break, Kansas City-area schools ramped up FAFSA completion efforts. Kansas City Public Schools held workshops, including events aimed at Spanish-speaking families, to help families fill out the application.

North Kansas City Schools has a program called “Graduate Kickstart” to assist students struggling with any post-high school plans, including applying for FAFSA.

Each senior or parent of a senior in the district will receive phone calls from someone from their home school to see if they are struggling with postsecondary plans or need help with the FAFSA or other enrollment questions.

If students postpone their enrollment now because of application issues, Ivory said they may be less likely to start college in the future.

Education advocates call the phenomenon where students who plan to attend college fail to do so after high school graduation “the summer melt.” The National College Attainment Network said students of color, first-generation students and students from low-income backgrounds are disproportionately likely to skip college after they miss that first window.

“We want to make sure that we still capture them, we still provide them support when they have the best chance of actually making it to college,” Ivory said.

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