Story by Marsha Chwalik, WEPM

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Colleges and universities across the state are planning FAFSA days for this coming Thursday, Feb. 1, and this year there are more challenges than normal with the federal financial aid process.

Jacob Witt

The form, Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is typically available by Oct. 1 of each year, but this year is only available right now as a soft launch because of changes to the form. It’s causing some adjustments on the part of students, who now have a later deadline for some state-based scholarships. Colleges are adjusting, too.

Shepherd University Director of Financial Jacob Witt said the changes to the form appear to be positive.

“The changes that the Department of Education are doing to the FAFSA are making it easier for parents and students to fill it out, with less data, just making it easier,” Witt said.

He said the late rollout has been a challenge.

“The delays from the changes that are being made are delaying financial aid packages that we are sending out to first time students,” Witt said.

Shepherd sent its financial aid packages out in December 2022 before the 2023 filing period. Witt said this year it will be mid-February if everything lines up.

Shelley Moore Capito

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito and several other senators sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking for an investigation into the Biden administration in connection with the FAFSA rollout.

“Repeated delays from the Department of Education (Education) in rolling out the new FAFSA have left students and schools in limbo for the upcoming school year,” the lawmakers wrote. “All these challenges and delays may cause some students—particularly low-income students who are most dependent on federal aid—to give up and not pursue postsecondary education.”

The state Higher Education Policy Commission has already extended the filing deadlines for the Promise Scholarship from March 1 to May 1 and the West Virginia Higher Education Grant from April 15 to May 1.Meanwhile, Shepherd University will be among those hosting an event for West Virginia FAFSA Day this Thursday, Feb. 1. The statewide event aims to help students and their families navigate the application process.

Witt said representatives from Shepherd University will also be heading to area high schools to help students fill out their FAFSA forms. He said students should fill out the FAFSA even if they don’t think they need to.

“We also use it to determine the eligibility for scholarships, needs-based scholarships and all of that. It’s always better to fill out the FAFSA no matter what,” Witt said.

Witt said for the first time in a number of years, Shepherd University is requiring the FAFSA be filled out for any institutional aid. He says 70% of Shepherd University’s degree-seeking undergraduate students are receiving some type of grant, scholarship, or waiver.

Witt suggests checking with the college or university you are applying to or attending to find information specific to their financial aid packages.

Witt suggests checking with the college or university you are applying to or attending to find information specific to their financial aid packages.

More information about Shepherd University’s aid packages here.

You can access more information about the FAFSA here.

MetroNews Reporter Jeff Jenkins contributed to this story.