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US Department of Education Takes New Measures to Assist Schools and Students with Improved FAFSA
U.S. Department of Education Takes Additional Steps to Assist Schools and Students with Improved FAFSA® Process
The Department of Education has recently announced new measures to assist colleges in efficiently processing student financial aid forms. The Department’s primary objective is to ensure that students have access to the maximum amount of financial aid possible, making higher education attainable for more Americans. Since the release of the new 2024-25 FAFSA form on December 30, approximately 4 million forms have already been successfully submitted.
The latest steps announced aim to simplify the process for schools, allowing them to spend more time assisting students. This includes reducing verification requirements, suspending routine school compliance reviews, and offering flexibility on renewing participation in federal student aid programs. Additionally, the Department will be releasing test versions of Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) to help schools prepare their systems and providing open-source tools to support institutions using these test ISIRs. These steps build upon the FAFSA College Support Strategy that was recently introduced by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. The strategy involves deploying federal personnel to support under-resourced colleges, establishing a concierge service, allocating $50 million for technical assistance and support, and providing helpful tools for institutions to prepare.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona expressed the Department’s dedication to simplifying the FAFSA process, stating, “We are determined to drive a constant drumbeat of action to fulfill the transformational potential of the Better FAFSA. The steps we’re announcing today build on the Better FAFSA College Support Strategy by making it easier for colleges and universities to get financial aid packages to students and families as quickly as possible. We will strive to leave no stone unturned to make this FAFSA process easier and simpler for colleges, universities, and students.”
Enhancing Efficiency in Student Record Processing for Schools
The Department has unveiled measures to expedite the processing of student records by colleges, including:
- Significantly reducing verification requirements: While maintaining efforts to prevent identity fraud, the Department will significantly reduce verification requirements this year. In the past, a larger portion of FAFSA applicants were selected for verification by colleges. However, as a result of direct data exchange with the IRS, which has been made possible by the revamped FAFSA form, the Department is now receiving the majority of income data directly from the IRS, eliminating the need for verification. This reduction in verifications will lighten the burden for colleges and students while still ensuring protection against fraud.
- Suspending new routine program reviews: The Department regularly conducts program reviews to ensure colleges comply with eligibility requirements and exhibit financial responsibility and administrative capability. However, all new program reviews, except those related to serious issues like suspected fraud or breach of fiduciary duty, will be suspended until June 2024. Colleges undergoing program reviews can also request extensions for responses, reports, or additional documentation, providing them with more time to focus on quickly delivering aid offers to students.
- Providing additional flexibility on recertification: Institutions are normally required to recertify their eligibility for federal student aid programs at least 90 days before their Program Participation Agreement (PPA) expires. However, in the case of schools whose PPA expires in March, June, or September 2024, the Department will waive the 90-day requirement, allowing them to submit a recertification application until their expiration day. This flexibility relieves institutions during a critical time and enables them to concentrate their resources on delivering the aid students require.
Deploying Expertise, Funding, and Tools to Support Better FAFSA Implementation
These measures build on the Department’s ongoing efforts to support colleges and students through the FAFSA College Support Strategy:
- Deploying federal personnel: The office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) is dispatching teams of federal experts to assist under-resourced schools. This initiative ensures that colleges in need of personalized aid, including historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), receive the necessary support. Schools will be selected based on various criteria, such as the percentage of Pell students, resource limitations, and other indicators of need. FSA has begun reaching out to the first group of schools to offer support and anticipates deploying teams within the next two weeks. The Department has also established a concierge service within FSA that provides direct access to financial aid experts for colleges, delivering personalized support based on each institution’s requirements.
- Dedicating funding for technical assistance and support: The Department is allocating $50 million in federal funding to non-profit organizations specializing in financial aid support and services. These organizations will use the funds to recruit financial aid professionals who will offer additional technical assistance and support to under-resourced colleges, beyond the assistance provided by federal teams. Participating colleges will benefit from additional staff, aiding them in assessing their financial aid system readiness, implementing necessary updates, training their staff, developing aid packages, and complying with student aid requirements.
- Providing test student financial aid records: By February 16, the Department will release test versions of Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) to colleges. These test ISIRs will enable colleges and their partners to prepare their systems and procedures for efficiently assembling aid packages. Additionally, open-source tools will be provided to institutions using the test ISIRs to ensure a smooth transition.