Must Read Blog May 21, 2024

Stopping Out (Again) – FAFSA Delays May Have Outsized Impact on Vulnerable Student Populations

Every year, the post-secondary community closely watches May 1st as it marks the traditional deadline for student enrollment decisions. However, this year a day typically filled with celebration and excitement has turned somber given FAFSA chaos. Many high school seniors are still waiting for their financial aid award letters, and research from Tyton Partners shows that continuing students, particularly those of vulnerable populations, have been negatively impacted as well.  

Broadly, our post-secondary student success surveys reveal: 

  • Previously stopped out students are more likely to consider transferring to a different institution than their peers as a result of FAFSA delays. 
  • There is a mismatch between advising topics that stopped out students deem to be essential and their conversations with advisors – stopped out students want to discuss financial issues with their advisors, but advisors do not view financial issues to be in-scope for their sessions​. 
  • Over half of academic advisors aren’t aware of the goals of FAFSA modifications to begin with (simplification of the federal aid process and increased student access to higher education), indicating a lack of awareness on financial issues that students may seek their help with. 
  • Finally, despite the significant expected strain on financial aid offices, half of financial aid professionals report that their financial aid office has not taken any action, or that they are uncertain about the actions their office has taken. 
  • One point of context, given the situation is still actively unfolding: our institutional survey was in field late March through early April and our learner survey was fielded in early March. 

While we continue to wait with bated breath, here are some early insights from our Driving Toward a Degree and Listening to Learners 2024 surveys so you can consider more deeply how to mitigate the potential negative impact FAFSA modifications and delays may have on all students moving forward. The full publications for Time for Class 2024 will be released in June, Driving Towards a Degree 2024 in August, and Listening to Learners 2024 in September. 


Self-reported impact of FAFSA delays grim for select populations

Listening to Learners 2024 surveyed 1,600+ students at 2- and 4-year public and private institutions during March 2024. In this research cycle, we targeted student respondents who have stopped out previously and returned to school to learn more about this important population, such as why they re-enrolled and what student support services have been most impactful. In addition, we also included questions related to the recent FAFSA delays and modifications.

Tyton asked learners who receive federal financial aid what specific impact the FAFSA delays and modifications have had on them. When reviewing responses of stopped out students and non-stopped out students, students who have previously stopped-out are two times more likely than non-stopped-out students to consider transferring to a different college or university because of the FAFSA modifications and delays. Additionally, stopped out students are more likely than non-stopped students to report waiting to re-enroll until they understand what their federal aid will be for next year. 



Stopped out students who have returned to school have already overcome significant barriers to re-enrollment, and unfortunately the FAFSA delays have placed yet another hurdle in their path to credential attainment. 


Financial aid stress is a missed opportunity to engage 

In Listening to Learners 2024 we asked students what topics they find to be important to discuss with their academic advisors, and in Driving Toward a Degree 2024 we asked academic advisors what topics they find essential to cover with students in their caseload. There is a mismatch between what advisors consider essential to discuss, and what students want to discuss. Academic advisors focus on core topics such as course selection, discussing progress towards graduation, and registration for the upcoming term, but students seek more holistic support and want to speak about a broad range of topics. Specifically, all learners want to discuss financial issues with their advisors, but advisors do not view financial issues to be an essential topic to cover for their sessions (rather, the focus is on course selection and registration). 




Moreover, aside from advisors not considering financial matters within their purview, more than half of academic advisors lack awareness regarding the drivers and implications of FAFSA delays. Even if students raise financial concerns during advising meetings, academic advisors are unlikely to offer the necessary support. To access the required assistance students will likely have to pursue a referral or contact the financial aid office themselves, which could entail waiting for an available appointment. These additional steps create further obstacles to students receiving holistic support in a timely manner. 


Increased strain on financial aid offices 

In Driving Toward a Degree 2024, we asked financial aid professionals what steps their institution has taken to mitigate the strain on the financial aid office related to FAFSA simplifications, delays, and modifications to aid eligibility. 

Encouragingly, a third of financial aid professionals report utilizing Department of Education resources, and a quarter have modified processes to enhance efficiency. However, nearly half stated that their financial aid office has not taken any action, or that they are uncertain about the actions their office has taken. While this lack of action may stem from the expectation that FAFSA delays are a one-time occurrence, failure to address the known increased strain on financial aid offices could adversely affect students. 


Never let a crisis go to waste 

The FAFSA debacle highlights the urgency of issues that institutions, financial aid and student support providers and scholarship organizations must work to solve. The returning student population, especially those who have previously stopped out are not well served by the ecosystem and each actor has an opportunity in this crisis. Specifically:

  • Scholarship Organizations: The FAFSA delays and modifications don’t only impact incoming students – they’re also impacting current students. Are you taking advantage of heightened student attention on financial aid? 
  • Enrollment management offices and solution providers: Do you have a customized playbook for different student populations (e.g., previously stopped out students), knowing that certain topics (such as financial aid) are more crucial for certain demographics? How effective are the tools you are using in helping you to manage nuanced conversations with prospective students? 
  • Financial Aid Office: How can you support academic advisors who are often asked to talk about financial issues with students? 
  • Provost’s Office: How can you improve coordination across student supports and help academic advisors be more holistic in their approach? 
  • Faculty: How can we educate faculty on the challenges that the FAFSA delays create for students and help instructors direct students to the best resources on campus for counseling? Based on our survey insights, for most institutions, it is likely faster to go directly to the Financial Aid office as opposed to Academic Advising. 
  • Processing (loans, payment, and bank) operators: Are you directing students to the information they need to make an informed decision on whether dropping out or transferring is the right course of action? 
  • Source systems (FA management): Financial aid offices are under resourced and not equipped to deal with the impact of the FAFSA delays. What can be done from a product standpoint to connect the dots for overburdened financial aid counselors to make sure students from vulnerable populations are getting the additional support they need? 



In conclusion, FAFSA delays are significantly impacting students, especially those who have previously stopped out. Previously stopped out students are more likely to consider transferring and are waiting to re-enroll until they understand their federal aid for the next year. There’s a clear gap between what academic advisors consider important and what students want to discuss, with financial issues being a key concern. Many advisors are unaware of the implications of FAFSA delays, hindering students’ access to support. Moving forward, stakeholders must address these challenges to better support students, especially those from vulnerable populations. This crisis is an opportunity to improve coordination and efficiency, ensuring students have the support they need to succeed. Reach out to discuss and learn more.