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Department of Education Announces Steps to Make Better FAFSA® More Readily Accessible

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced additional steps to facilitate submitting the 2024–25 FAFSA form. 

Since the form became available on Dec. 30, ED estimates nearly 4 million forms have been successfully submitted and the time to complete the forms substantially reduced to as little as 15 minutes. Last week, ED announced $50 million in funding for personnel and resources, including technical assistance and support, deployed to support institutions, students and their families with Better FAFSA®. Earlier this week, the Biden-Harris administration announced new steps that will make it easier for colleges and universities to process records and allow for more time being spent to help students. 

These new steps include reducing verification requirements, suspending routine school compliance reviews and providing flexibility on renewing participation in the federal student aid programs. There is an intention to particularly support under-resourced institutions.Dr. Miguel A. CardonaDr. Miguel A. Cardona

On a teleconference with the media, Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel A. Cardona said that by Feb. 16 the ED will release test versions of Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs), which will give colleges and universities time to prepare their systems and implement Better FAFSA. The goal is for this to be transformational for hundreds of thousands of additional students. 

“These steps are a direct response to input we’ve received from financial aid administrators and college and university presidents about where they’re seeing challenges in implementing Better FAFSA and the concrete ways and steps we can take that help them process this information easier and simpler,” said Cardona. “Our top priority is to ensure that students can access the maximum financial aid possible to help them pursue their higher education goals.”

Letters will be going out to college and university administrators, including leaders of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) explaining the steps and offering the ED's continued support and direct communication.

ED officials said that they are aware there have been delays in this overhaul of what Cardona called a “broken system.” 

The first step is significantly reducing verification requirements while continuing key measures focused on reducing identity fraud.

“The Better FAFSA will pull income information directly from tax records through a data exchange with the IRS (Internal Revenue Service),” said Cardona. This will largely serve as the ED's source for income data, thus eliminating the need for verification in most cases.

In addition, new routine program reviews are being suspended through June 2024, except for issues of suspected fraud or severe breach of fiduciary duty. Institutions currently undergoing program reviews can also request extensions. This enables colleges and universities to focus on implementing the Better FAFSA. 

Finally, there will be additional flexibility on recertification. ED is waiving the 90-day requirement for institutions whose Program Participation Agreement expires between now and September 2024. Schools will have until their expiration date to submit the recertification application. 

“Here’s the bottom line—fewer requirements for colleges and universities this spring means more time and resources freed up to deliver financial aid for students and make the most of the Better FAFSA,” Cardona said. “These steps come on top of the Better FAFSA College Support Strategy we announced last week. Our concierge service is up and running, and we’re getting ready to deploy financial aid experts to support colleges.”

During Monday's teleconference with members of the media, senior department officials responded to questions including one about students whose parents do not have Social Security numbers. Those students are currently unable to fill out the required form online but can use a paper version of the new form. The online form has various interactive checks at every step, which is the issue that needs to be resolved. 

“Our hope is to make the online form available to all families, including parents without Social Security numbers in the coming weeks,” said a senior department official. “Although the paper form is an option for families now, waiting for the online form is another alternative that could be easier for many families.”

This fundamental change to the FAFSA involves new terminology and methodology for delivering student aid, which will make around 600,000 more students eligible to receive Pell Grants. This requires new technology and approaches, which have been time consuming. 

A senior department official said Congress has set deadlines for three massive modernization projects: the return to repayment, the FAFSA and the transition to new student loan servicing contracts. 

“Congress did not provide the substantial amount of increased funding we requested to implement these three bipartisan projects,” said the official. “It’s very challenging for us to deliver on the level of service we want to provide to borrowers.”

For more than a year, ED has educated college counselors, advisors, high school students and financial aid officers on the new form. There has also been work with colleges, universities and professional associations that work with people who advise students and families on how to fill out the FAFSA. That work is ongoing.

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