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Federal student aid application delays leave students in limbo

A sign at the entrance to Montana Tech in Butte, MT shows the school's name and logo along with the "Est. 1900" at the bottom of the sign.
Josh Burnham
A sign at the entrance to Montana Tech in Butte, MT.

A series of delays at the federal level will impact when students start receiving financial aid offers from Montana colleges.

Eighteen-year-old Park High School senior Gracie Peterson has had her sights set on Montana Tech’s nursing program for years.

“That was the one for me,” Peterson said. “In my head, it’s like, ‘you need to go to school, complete this and become the best you can in the healthcare industry.’”

She recently learned she’d been accepted to the university in Butte and she’s eager to move onto campus this summer. But one hurdle is still in her way: she’s been unable to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA. The form has had a troubled rollout this year marked by delays and access errors, according to NPR.

“It is a stressful thing, even with school going on because, as a senior, I’m in a few harder classes. It’s going to be a lot,” Peterson said.

The FAFSA is many prospective college students’ key to affording their education. But federal education officials this week said universities won’t start receiving financial aid data for applicants until March. That’s forcing students, and universities, to adjust.

Leslie Dickerson heads the enrollment and admissions department at Montana Tech.

“We’re really just trying to be as nimble as possible, and being prepared to respond to students and families as they ask questions,” Dickerson said.

Montana Tech is also pushing students to apply for scholarships, and it’s considering tweaking requirements for awards that are tied to data provided by FAFSA.

Dickerson is hopeful a streamlined FAFSA will make it easier to access financial aid in future years. For now, student Gracie Peterson said she’s still excited for college, even if her path to paying for it is uncertain.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

He is best reached by emailing
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