Oregon’s college-bound seniors are behind on federal student aid applications

By Tiffany Camhi (OPB)
April 17, 2024 12:37 a.m.

The new FAFSA form has been bogged down by technical problems and delays. Submissions are down among public high school seniors across the nation, including in Oregon.

Oregon’s public high school seniors have some catching up to do when it comes to applying for federal financial aid to attend college.

The submission rate for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, among the state’s high school seniors is down 22% from this time last year. That’s according to data released by the U.S. Education Department Monday.


So far this year, 38% of Oregon’s high school seniors have submitted a FAFSA. This lower-than-usual rate is one of the first clear signs that the federal government’s bungled rollout of the new, simplified FAFSA this year is getting in students’ way.

Juan Báez-Arévalo, director of Oregon’s Office of Student Access and Completion, says the state’s low FAFSA completion rate so far is concerning but he is expecting a surge in applications this spring.


“Before this particular FAFSA year, we have had a slow start and then a rush in the spring,” said Báez-Arévalo. “We are looking forward to seeing that rush and to see greater completion rates across the state.”

Báez-Arévalo also noted that this year’s FAFSA came out three months later than usual. The Education Department released the 2024-2025 application on Dec. 31, 2023. In past years, the form was available starting in October.

The new FAFSA, known as Better FAFSA, was supposed to be simpler for students and parents to fill out. It was also meant to increase student access to federal Pell Grants, essentially free money for college that income-eligible students do not have to pay back. Instead, the Education Department’s rollout has been plagued by ongoing delays, technical problems and miscalculations. It took some students weeks, rather than minutes or hours, to successfully complete applications. Others were barred from finishing the application at all for months. Repeated delays in student FAFSA data being sent to schools have meant many higher education institutions have still not sent out financial aid packages to prospective students, frustrating families as they face imminent enrollment decisions. The Education Department says it has fixed or has plans to fix several of the problems with the new FAFSA.

The release of FAFSA submission rates comes amid a nationwide push to increase the number of high school seniors completing the application. A week-long effort, dubbed the National FAFSA Week of Action, began Monday. It encourages high school counselors, nonprofit organizations and elected officials to increase awareness around the FAFSA, hold in-person FAFSA clinics and share resources. Oregon is participating through local events and social media pushes coordinated by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

“We’re working with partners across the state,” said Báez-Arévalo. “We have several initiatives that we have had in place since last fall and years prior to get FAFSA completion rates going up.”

Báez-Arévalo is hopeful that Oregon’s high school seniors will catch up this year. And he sees a glimmer of hope in his office’s outreach to schools and students already: applications for the fall 2025 Oregon Promise Grant cohort are up by nearly 11% compared to this time last year. Oregon Promise grants pay tuition costs at any of Oregon’s community colleges for recent high school and GED test graduates. Its application period is still open.

“It gives us strength, knowing that students in this high school cohort are very active in their application process,” said Báez-Arévalo. “It’s good momentum. Now we need to see that realized in completed FAFSAs.”

Still, high school seniors looking to head to a traditional, four-year college are in a time crunch to successfully fill out the new FAFSA. Many face university enrollment deadlines on June 1, a deadline that many Oregon schools have already pushed back. There’s additional pressure on families looking for help, as students will mostly lose access to their high school college and career counselors as they cross graduation stages around the same time.