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FAFSA: Department of Education Takes Steps to Speed ​​Up Financial Aid to Universities After Rollout Delays

Graeme Sloan/SIPAPRE/Sipa USA/AP/File

A general view of the Department of Education headquarters in Washington, DC, September 9, 2019.


Washington
CNN

The Education Department said Tuesday it is taking steps to speed up financial aid to colleges for the upcoming 2024-25 school year after a bumpy rollout of the new free federal student aid application, known as the FAFSA.

This is the first time students and their families have used a simpler version of the FAFSA to apply for student loans and grants. With the new form, more students should be eligible for increased financial aid – but the rollout has faced delays.

First, the form – which is typically released on October 1 – was not widely available until early January. Then, after making a last-minute change to the financial aid calculation, the Department of Education said it would not be able to transfer students’ financial information to colleges until the first half of March, more than a month later than expected.

The Education Department has been criticized by lawmakers on both sides for its delays. A group of Republicans sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office last month. request an investigation. On Monday, more than 100 Democratic lawmakers called on Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to urgently address operational issues.

“Any delay in processing financial aid will have a greater impact on students who need it most,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter led by an independent agency. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Democrat Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia.

Department of Education officials have repeatedly said that overhauling the FAFSA is a major and complex undertaking, made even more difficult by a lack of resources. In 2022, the Biden administration requested additional funds to deal with a larger caseload, but Congress left its budget the same as the previous year.

On Tuesday, the Department of Education announced three measures aimed at freeing up time for colleges to prepare financial aid packages before students must decide where to enroll next school year.

First, the agency will select fewer FAFSA filers for an additional, often time-consuming, process called verification to confirm that everything on the form is accurate. In recent years, about a third of applicants have been selected for an audit-style process. Previously, the Department of Education waived certain types of verification for students submitting the FAFSA for the 2021-22 award year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Second, the department will suspend all new routine program reviews, which are usually conducted to confirm that a college is eligible to receive federal funds. In recent years, several hundred college programs have been revised each year. The agency will still review programs related to the most serious issues such as suspected fraud.

Third, the Department of Education is giving colleges more flexibility to recertify their eligibility for federal aid by temporarily waiving the requirement to apply 90 days before the expiration date.

“Flexibility will give these institutions more time at this critical time, so they can focus on getting the students they need,” Cardona said in a call with reporters Monday.

Last week, the Department of Education also announced it would provide staffing, funding, resources and technology to some colleges and universities to help them provide financial aid to students as quickly as possible.

What is the FAFSA and how has it changed?

The FAFSA determines eligibility for Federal Pell Grants and federal student loans – and in most cases, financial aid provided by colleges as well.

The form is long overdue for an update, and the new version released late last year is the culmination of changes approved by Congress in 2019 and 2020.

In previous years, the FAFSA could have up to 108 questions. With the new form, some applicants will have to answer just 18 questions, which would take less than 10 minutes, according to the Ministry of Education. Some information is now taken directly from the filer’s tax return so the applicant does not have to do so. I have to look up numbers on old tax returns.

With the new FAFSA, more families should be eligible for financial aid.

In fact, the Department of Education estimates that an additional 610,000 students will qualify for a Pell Grant on an annual basis. The Pell Grant program is a key way the federal government helps students from low-income families go to college by providing eligible students with money they do not have to pay back.

And an estimated 1.5 million more students will be eligible for the maximum Pell Grant amount, which typically changes each year. The Pell Grant is worth up to $7,395 for the current school year.

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