Three years ago, Congress enacted long-overdue reforms in the passage of the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020, which substantially improves Federal student aid process. Among the many changes in the Act are a reduction in the number of questions from 108 to 36, the liberalization of eligibility rules for homeless and foster system students, and the shielding of more money earned by students from family assets. The Actensures that more families in financial need will receive aid. About 1.7 million additional students are expected to qualify for Federal student aid every year under the Act.
Originally, the U.S. Education Department (ED) was to complete the changes to the FAFSA system mandated by the Act in time for the 2022-23 award year (college admissions cycle). However, ED requested that implementation be delayed to 2023-24 and, after a period of time, they requested that it be delayed again to 2024-25.
The FAFSA for the 2024-25 admission cycle is now scheduled to open in December 2023. This is not only two years late for most of the changes mandated by the Act, it also delays FAFSA availability in 2023 two months past the traditional date of October 1. This will adversely affect the college plans of students planning to apply in the 2023-24 admissions cycle as well as students who need to re-apply for Federal aid each year.
Speaking at a National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) conference in February, Melanie Storey, Director of the ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA), said that, in order to assure compliance with the Act, the ED will not be able to launch the FAFSA as usual on October 1 of this year. According to The Washington Post, Storey told conference attendees that, “We are deep in the thick of it. But right now … we’re not committing to a launch date this fall. We are moving toward it as aggressively as we can. But I can assure you that we will launch in the fourth quarter of 2023.”
The delay of the 2023 FAFSA launch from October 1 to December worries advocates of greater access to college for low-income students. They have been frustrated by repeated delays of the improvements in the Act. This has now been compounded by further harm in a two-month delay in the 2023 FAFSA.
Colleges May Not Have Sufficient Time
Many colleges won’t be able to determine their award packages for accepted applicants if they don’t have sufficient lead time to review FAFSA data. Katherine Knott, writing for Inside Higher Education, quoted the President of NASFAA, Justin Draeger, as stating that a delayed launch in 2023 would be “Massively disruptive… a delay of the form could mean a delay in getting financial aid offers to students, and it could hamper student’s college searches and affect state aid agencies that have earlier deadlines.”
Advocacy groups first became concerned about a delay earlier this year when the ED declined to commit to the usual availability date for the FAFSA of October 1. The National College Attainment Network (NCAN) contacted senior Biden administration officials seeking reassurance, but got no satisfactory response. NCAN Executive Director Kim Cook asserted in February that guidance counselors, state aid administrators, certified college planners, and college admissions consultants “… need a clear release date that allows them to adjust their planning for the significant changes ahead.”
FAFSA data is also critical for the states that use it as the basis for their own awards of financial aid. Some state grant programs have deadlines as early as February 1, so the later the FAFSA is available, the less time students have to apply.
Preparing award letters requires a great deal of effort by a college, so the later they receive the FAFSA’s of applicants, the less time there is to determine the amount and type of aid to be awarded to them. Without award letters, students don’t have the information they need to make enrollment decisions. Collateral damage will emanate from the fact that many colleges already suffer from declining enrollment, and the inability of many students to enroll by the deadline will exacerbate their problem.
Eddy Conroy, an expert on education policy, has written that “My biggest concern is for students, especially marginalized and first-generation students, who might need help completing their FAFSA. Schools and financial aid offices have built their timelines on college advising and FAFSA help around an October 1 release date. Delay means less time to help the students who need the most support.”
ED’s Recent Announcement
The FSA issued a lengthy announcement on March 21 titled “Implementing the 2024–25 FAFSA Process”. It’s introductory sentence is quoted below.
“Today, the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) published the “Better FAFSA Better Future Roadmap” (Roadmap), an implementation timeline of resources, guidance, and training materials for students and parents, schools and institutions, and other stakeholders about the redesigned 2024-25 FAFSA.
The announcement states that the new FAFSA is the most ambitious redesign of the form and process in over three decades. It is intended to substantially simplify the way in which students, parents, educators, and other participants use the FAFSA starting in 2023. The Roadmap describes the resources and tools that will be available to those who use the FAFSA to apply for Federal student aid. It states that the launch of the new FAFSA is “on track” for December of this year. It’s important to note that the ED has not stated for certain that the FAFSA will be launched in December. They state that they have been “working to launch the 2024–25 FAFSA form as early as possible” and will provide updates regarding timing developments. This has ominous overtones for all concerned.
The Roadmap contains information of value to certified college planners who work extensively the FAFSA. It will be the topic of the next post.