Summary: Secretary Riley's "Dear President" letter re: the delay in the processing of the 1996-97 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Author: CSB - SFA Customer Support Branch
March 6, 1996
I am writing to alert you to a delay in the processing of the
1996-97 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As you
know, the FAFSA is used by students to apply for federal student
aid; in addition, many states and institutions use the FAFSA for
their aid programs. I take the processing delay as a very
serious problem requiring my direct attention. I request your
cooperation to ensure that this processing delay does not present
a barrier for any student planning to attend a postsecondary
education institution this fall.
Please be assured that processing the 1996-97 FAFSA is a very
high priority for the Department and that we are committing the
necessary resources to remedy the problem. The Department has
already taken a number of steps to ensure that FAFSAs are
processed on a timely basis. As a result, we expect that all
paper applications submitted to our private contractors prior to
March 1 will be processed, on a rolling basis, no later than
March 31. Paper FAFSAs received after March 1 will also be
processed on a rolling basis. We expect that our contractors
will return to the normal 14-day processing cycle by March 31.
As a result, we expect that the last batch of paper applications
received in March will be processed no later than April 15.
There are a variety of reasons for the delay in the 1996-97
processing. As you will recall, most of the Department of
Education was shut down twice as a result of government furloughs
during the last three months and once due to the January
blizzard, for a total of 21 work days. In addition, our private
contractors have experienced difficulties in processing the paper
FAFSAs due to technical problems with the newly-designed computer
I have taken the following steps to ensure that this problem is
The contractors have implemented plans to correct technical
problems and increase production. They have set up
supplemental worksites, hired additional employees, and are
currently processing applications 24 hours a day, 7 days a
The Department is taking additional steps to increase
processing capacity to have more than enough capability to
process the paper FAFSAs.
To respond to concerned families, last week we substantially
increased our customer support services by extending hours
and increasing the number of operators on our hotline.
Where practicable, we are encouraging institutions to submit
applications electronically, and we are encouraging students
and parents who have not yet filed for 1996-97 to use an
electronic option, FAFSA Express, to reduce delays. We are
mailing a copy of the FAFSA Express software to all high
schools on our distribution list this week.
Despite these efforts, there will be delays until the contractors
are operating on the normal FAFSA processing schedule. As a
result, I am requesting that colleges and universities do their
utmost to ensure that no individual or institution is further
disadvantaged by this processing delay. I am also requesting
states to be flexible in applying their deadlines for state
We are posting daily updates of the situation on the Department's
Bulletin Board System so that your financial aid director will be
informed of the current status of our processing. Moreover, if
your institution is an electronic participant in our student
assistance processing system, you will be able to draw down
records electronically several days before students and parents
receive the printed processing results.
I recognize the inconvenience your institution is experiencing,
especially your admissions and financial aid offices, which have
no control over this matter. Please be assured that we are doing
everything we can and will keep you informed of our progress.
Richard W. Riley
cc: Admissions Director
Financial Aid Director