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Feds sent students the wrong aid form

A source alerts me to a mistake by the U.S. Department of Education: A group of students seeking financial aid for college were mistakenly sent an old form, and may have missed aid deadlines as a result.

An e-mail, forwarded to me by the source, says a technical error on a government website misdirected thousands of students to the 2009-10 federal student aid form, instead of the 2010-11 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the one they should have filed.

This page on the Education Department's web site seems to corroborate the e-mail.

The error affected "fewer than 5,000 students," or 0.2 percent of 2.8 million aid applications, the e-mail helpfully clarifies. The problem began after a Feb. 23 update and was solved March 16. Students will be contacted starting today.

fafsa_logo.gif

"We expect institutions and agencies to accommodate affected students and be flexible with deadlines," writes Richard Gordon, chief information officer for federal student aid, in the e-mail.

No student's personal information was compromised, the government says.

Why does this matter? The source explained, on condition of anonymity. She works in the student aid industry.

"[M]ost financial aid is first-come, first-served - in a sense, a virtual line for aid starts forming January 1," she said. "It is worth asking whether this error causes affected applicants to "lose" their place in line. The earlier one applies for aid, the more likely one will receive a greater proportion of gift aid as opposed to aid you have to work for (work-study) or repay (government loans)."

Has anyone lost their place in line after inadvertently submitting last year's aid form? If so, send me an e-mail at devised@washpost.com or post a comment here.

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By Daniel de Vise  |  March 26, 2010; 2:03 PM ET
Categories:  Aid , Public policy  | Tags: FAFSA, public policy, student aid  
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