CU Boulder and CSU Fort Collins push enrollment deadlines amid FAFSA delays

Eli Imadali for Chalkbeat
Colorado State University Fort Collins and the University of Colorado Boulder announced they have changed their enrollment confirmation deadline.

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By Jason Gonzales, Chalkbeat Colorado

Colorado’s two largest universities will push the deadline for students to confirm their enrollment by a month to June 1.

The announcements Thursday by the University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University Fort Collins follow a difficult Free Application for Federal Student Aid season marred by glitches. The problems delayed when families could apply, and colleges haven’t received the information they use to help families determine if a school’s financially right for them.

“We are here to support our students,” said Amy Hutton, CU Boulder associate vice chancellor for enrollment management. “We really want to make sure that they have the support and the time they need to make the right decision.”

The U.S. Department of Education switched to a new FAFSA form this year, but the rollout has been slow and problematic. Families and students typically can start filling out the FAFSA in October.

But the federal government delayed the application period this year until Dec. 31 to create a new form. The federal government then announced a delay of student records that schools use to send out aid awards to families.

The Better FAFSA, as it is now known, has been easier and faster to complete. Nonetheless, some students, such as those whose parents don’t have Social Security numbers, have had issues finishing the form. The federal government has created a workaround for those families.

Typically, about 17 million students nationwide fill out the FAFSA; so far, about five million have completed the form.

Colleges across the state and U.S. began to shift numerous deadlines as FAFSA issues persisted.

Hutton said moving the deadline will give students, especially those who are the first in their families to go to college or who have higher financial need, more time to consider their financial options.

The state’s two premier public universities aren’t alone in announcing more flexibility for students amid FAFSA delays. Other Colorado public higher education institutions have already announced changes.

For example, Fort Lewis College already pushed its enrollment deadline to June 1. Other schools, especially regional institutions, traditionally are more flexible in admissions, but also have changed other deadlines this year, such as registration or when students need to submit housing applications.

Pushing the confirmation deadline is more consequential for larger schools such as CU Boulder and CSU Fort Collins because they compete for a more selective pool of students.

Heather Daniel, CSU Fort Collins director of admissions, said the May 1 enrollment deadline has been like a “national holiday” when students announce where they planned to attend college. Schools use the enrollment confirmation deadline as a way to understand the size of the next year’s incoming freshmen, which helps them plan.

Pushing the deadline by a month also will impact students. The tighter schedule gives them less time to complete pre-enrollment tasks, Daniel said.

“It might mean a quicker turnaround for students to be able to complete next steps, like signing up for orientation, registering for classes, and getting their housing,” Daniel said. “It’s just a matter of adjusting and, most importantly, accommodating students and families through the process. That’s our primary focus.”

On campus at the University of Colorado Boulder. Sept. 8, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
On campus at the University of Colorado Boulder. Sept. 8, 2021.

Statewide, other schools have tried to find ways to help families navigate this year.

Fort Lewis College President Tom Stritikus said schools statewide have shared information to figure out what’s best for their students. The national FAFSA problems have prompted the school to extend housing deposit deadlines and work-study applications.

Additionally, the school’s professors have reached out to prospective students to help with the college-going process, Stritikus said. He doesn’t want students to leave high school without knowing they have support from the college.

Fort Lewis also has worked with students already enrolled who need help filling out the FAFSA again. The school has extra money set aside to ensure they are guaranteed aid for next year.

“We fundamentally believe students are at the center of everything we do,” Stritikus said. “So, let’s be as flexible as we can.”

Metropolitan State University of Denver, which offers more flexible enrollment, has told students it will work with them through FAFSA challenges.

Vaughn Toland, MSU Denver chief enrollment officer, said many of the school’s students apply well into the summer. The school has extended financial aid eligibility deadlines.

“We’re gonna get this figured out and we’re here to support you,” Toland said.

The school, which is the most diverse Colorado institution and has a high number of students who are the first to go to college, has tried to communicate it will be flexible if students run into individual issues.

Kerline Eglaus, MSU Denver executive director of financial aid and scholarships, said she wants students to know they won’t get left behind because many deadlines are fluid.

“And that’s given them some peace of mind,” she said.

But students should attempt to fill out the FAFSA, school leaders said.

The form is the only way students can truly understand their financial options for school, Hutton said.

“I always recommend students fill out the FAFSA and see what aid is available to them so they can make an informed decision about where they want to attend and their ability to succeed when they do,” Hutton said.

Jason Gonzales is a reporter covering higher education and the Colorado legislature. Chalkbeat Colorado partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage. Contact Jason at [email protected].