Story by Carrie Hodousek, MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker says she continues to have concerns over this year’s FAFSA rollout as the May 1 deadline approaches.

Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker

“It seems weekly, if not more often, that the U.S. Department of Education finds another mistake and there are significant mistakes. They’re not small mistakes,” Tucker told the commission last week.

The state learned that of the U.S. high school students who have applied to a college or university for this upcoming fall semester, 30 percent of the applications are wrong due to the interface between the U.S. Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not working properly.

“It’s not calculating the student aid index correctly so those 30 percent will have to be kicked back and reprocessed, but that reprocessing isn’t going to happen until after May 1,” she said.

Another 16 percent of those applications have user errors from students or parents filling out the forms, which Tucker said is common and is typically an easy fix; however, the vendor of the new system has not created that functionality yet to allow families to make changes.

“They say that they’re going to start rolling out some of those functionalities in a soft launch soon and we’ll see how that goes, but right now of the FAFSA applications that have been submitted, we’re looking at 46 percent being incorrect,” she said.

A total of 6 million FAFSA applications have been filed nationwide as of Friday. Tucker said typically at this time that number is around 17 million.

“We have a big crisis on our hands,” she said.

About 6,400 West Virginia high school seniors have filled out FAFSA applications and about 5,100 have completed those applications as of March 29. That’s a 33.3 percent decline from last year.

Tucker said about 20 percent of this year’s applications are incomplete compared to 6 percent at this time last year.

The state is down by 35 percent of freshman who are applying for the FAFSA.

Tucker said the HEPC has been holding FAFSA workshops and outreach events to spread the word about the new system and encourage more students to apply.

“Our staff has done 160 FAFSA outreach nights or days, which is truly remarkable, but I think we’re going to have to start looking at how to use the institutions as hubs to better outreach to adults because they’re not getting the same support as our high school students are getting,” she said.

Because of FAFSA problems, the HEPC voted in December to extend the application deadlines for the Promise Scholarship and state Higher Education Grant until May 1.

Families who need help filling out the FAFSA are welcome to call the HEPC’s Financial Aid Hotline at (877)-987-7664.