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Workaround to FAFSA glitch allows Texas students from immigrant families to apply for college aid

By Sneha Dey, The Texas Tribune

Workaround to FAFSA glitch allows Texas students from immigrant families to apply for college aid” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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A temporary workaround is now available for immigrant families who have been affected by glitches in the revamped Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Since the new FAFSA launched in late December, parents without a Social Security number have been unable to add their financial information and complete the form. According to a census data analysis by the left-leaning think tank Every Texan, one in four children in Texas has at least one parent who is not a U.S. citizen. Those parents often lack a Social Security number.

The workaround: Applicants facing pressing state or school deadlines can now submit an incomplete FAFSA online without a parent’s signature. Doing so will get applicants an email confirming they have submitted their FAFSA, which they can share with schools to meet their deadlines.

Students who use this workaround will still need to make corrections to their form later, once the Education Department comes out with a permanent fix for the glitch. Federal officials are estimating they will fix the glitch by the “first half of” March. Returning to the form to make corrections will be critical: a missing parent signature will eventually result in a rejected FAFSA.

Texas students are staring down the barrel of the state’s priority deadline to apply for financial aid, which is on March 15. Some Texas colleges will begin putting together financial aid packages in early March, once they start getting access to data from completed FAFSAs.

The Education Department said students who are not facing any pressing state or school deadlines can wait for the form to be fixed before filling it out. Texas college counselors are looking at each student’s case before recommending whether they should wait or use the workaround.

The FAFSA is the single best way for about 1.6 million Texas college students to access federal, state and school grants and scholarships. Texas students are advised to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible, leading college hopefuls impacted by the glitch to feel increasingly anxious about the delay in fixing it.

The Education Department’s rollout of a workaround is the first time the agency has publicly acknowledged the glitch and its impact on immigrant families. While college access experts welcomed the temporary solution, they criticized the workaround as confusing and burdensome.

Sara Urquidez, the executive director of the Texas-based Academic Success Program, said she worries families won’t have the support and resources they need to correct the form when the Education Department comes up with a permanent fix to the glitch.

“In many ways, this proposed solution is too little, too late with the burden of making difficult decisions on how to proceed forward with financial aid applications being placed on students and families with limited knowledge of how the financial aid process works,” Urquidez said.

As immigrant families go through hurdles during the financial aid application process, like navigating the new workaround, Texas advocates worry students will be dissuaded from going to college. Those who try the interim fix will still have to return to complete the form before they find out how much they should expect to pay for college.

Advocates are demanding federal officials hurry issuing a permanent fix as quickly as possible.

“Why can’t the process be exactly the same as other students?” said Viridiana Carrizales, the CEO of ImmSchools, a nonprofit that supports undocumented students across Texas. “Anything that requires them to do things differently, additional time from their end, more complex stuff — That’s not equitable and not fair.”

The Texas Tribune partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/02/21/fafsa-glitch-texas-immigrant-students-workaround/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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