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College Students Across Colorado Hit Financial Aid ‘Snafu’

Stephanie Daniel
Jenny Lee, a student at the University of Northern Colorado, is one of thousands of college students statewide who must submit additional information to receive federal financial aid.

Jenny Lee is frustrated.

Due to a change in her parents' employment status, the rising senior at the University of Northern Colorado had her Federal Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) flagged. Her FAFSA application was selected for an audit - or verification, as it's called in higher education.

"At first it wasn't bad, I thought, 'Sure, I'll get it done. No big problem,'" said Lee. "But as I've been stuck in this for months now, it's been frustrating and I'm just like, 'Will I get financial aid?' Because this is like one last little barrier at this point."

Every year, about a third of college students have their FAFSA applications flagged for verification from the U.S. Department of Education. But this year the number of verifications has skyrocketed both nation and statewide.

Officials at the University of Colorado report that applications flagged for verification jumped from 11 percent last year to 19 percent this year.

At UNC, a thousand more students must complete the verification process compared to last year before receiving their financial aid award letter.

Credit Stephanie Daniel / KUNC
Students talk to financial aid counselors at an orientation at the University of Northern Colorado.

Marty Somero, UNC's financial aid director, said more than 95 percent of students who qualify for the highest amounts of financial aid were selected for verification. He worries this added frustration could dissuade some of them from pursuing a college degree.

"We don't want any student ever to give up on a dream of going to college because of these extra steps that the government's put into place for them to complete their FAFSA and get the financial aid that they're eligible for," he said.

Financial aid offices around the country noticed the increases when the FAFSA applications process opened last October. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators then contacted the Department of Education for an explanation. The federal agency discovered a faulty algorithm to be the cause and corrected the issue in mid-December.

Tom Biedscheid, director of financial aid at Colorado State University, said the correction should have leveled out the number of verifications.

"Meaning after the snafu, less students should have been selected to even out the total number selected," said Biedscheid. "(Biedscheid and other collegiate financial aid directors) found that our numbers didn't slow down much. So, we did have quite a few more students than usual selected."

The “American Dream” was coined in 1931 and since then the phrase has inspired people to work hard and dream big. But is it achievable today? Graduating from college is challenging, jobs are changing, and health care and basic rights can be a luxury. I report on the barriers people face and overcome to succeed and create a better life for themselves and their families.
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