U.S. Department of Education Announces Latest Steps to Support Schools and Students with Better FAFSA

U.S. Department of Education Announces Latest Steps to Support Schools and Students with Better FAFSA

February 13, 2024
U.S. Department of Education Announces Latest Steps to Support Schools and Students with Better FAFSA®

The U.S. Department of Education (Department) today announced additional steps to help colleges prepare to process student financial aid forms as efficiently as possible. The Department’s top priority is to ensure students can access the maximum financial aid possible to help them pursue their higher education goals and bring college in reach for more Americans. Since the new 2024–25 FAFSA form became available on Dec. 30, nearly 4 million forms have been successfully submitted.

The new steps announced today will make it easier for schools to process records and spend more time helping students by considerably reducing verification requirements, suspending routine school compliance reviews, and providing flexibility on renewing participation in the federal student aid programs. In addition, by Feb. 16, the Department will release test versions of Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) for schools to prepare their systems and launch open-source tools to support institutions using test ISIRs. These steps build upon the FAFSA College Support Strategy, which U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced last week. Under this strategy, the Department is deploying federal personnel to support under-resourced colleges, standing up a concierge service, allocating $50 million in funding for technical assistance and support, and releasing tools to help institutions prepare.

“We are determined to drive a constant drumbeat of action to fulfill the transformational potential of the Better FAFSA,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, “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.”

Making it easier and more efficient for schools to process student records

Today, the Department is announcing steps to help colleges process student records faster and more efficiently. This includes:

  • Significantly reducing verification requirements. This year, the Department will be significantly reducing verification requirements, while continuing key measures focused on avoiding identity fraud. In past years, the Department selected a much larger portion of FAFSA applicants for colleges to verify. More recently, the Department has gradually reduced that verification rate to more effectively target verification efforts while alleviating burdens for millions of students and thousands of schools. With the implementation of the direct data exchange with the IRS, made possible by this year’s overhauled FAFSA form, the Department is receiving the vast majority of income data directly from the IRS, which will not need to be verified. This year’s significant reduction in verifications will reduce the burden for colleges and students while continuing to protect against fraud.
  • Suspending new routine program reviews. As part of its oversight duties, the Department routinely conducts program reviews to confirm a college meets the Department’s requirements for institutional eligibility, financial responsibility, and administrative capability. The Department will suspend all new program reviews through June 2024, except for those related to the most serious issues like suspected fraud or a severe breach of fiduciary duty. Institutions with an ongoing program review can also request extensions for responses to program reviews, reports, or requests for additional documentation. This flexibility will reduce the time that colleges’ financial aid offices need to devote to producing documentation and responding to Department inquiries during the time they need to focus on quickly getting aid award offers to students.
  • Providing additional flexibility on recertification. Institutions are currently required to recertify eligibility for the Department’s federal student aid programs no later than 90 days before their Program Participation Agreement (PPA) expires. The Department will waive that 90-day requirement for schools whose PPA expires in March, June, or September 2024, meaning these schools have until their expiration day to submit a recertification application. Providing this flexibility will give time back to institutions at a critical moment and enable them to focus their resources on getting students the aid they need.

Deploying expertise, funding, and tools to help colleges make the most of Better FAFSA

These steps build upon the work underway to support colleges and students through the Department’s FAFSA College Support Strategy:

  • Deploying federal personnel. The Department’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) is deploying teams of federal experts to under-resourced schools. Through this effort, the Department will serve colleges that need additional personalized help, including HBCUs and TCUs that would like the support. Schools will be selected based on a number of criteria, including percentage of Pell students, resource constraints, and other indications of need. Starting this week, FSA will be reaching out to a first set of schools to offer support and expects to start deploying teams in the next two weeks. In addition, over the past week, the Department has created a new concierge service within FSA, which is providing a broad set of colleges direct contact with financial aid experts to provide them personalized support based on the institution’s needs
  • Dedicating funding to provide technical assistance and support. The Department is allocating $50 million in federal funding that will be provided to non-profit groups specializing in financial aid support and services. These groups will use these funds to recruit financial aid professionals to provide additional technical assistance and support, beyond the federal teams deployed by the Department, for under resourced colleges. Participating colleges will receive additional staff support to deliver services such as assessing financial aid system readiness and implementing necessary updates, training staff, developing aid packages, and carrying out other student aid compliance requirements.
  • Delivering test student financial aid records by the end of the week. By Feb. 16, the Department will begin releasing test versions of Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs). These test ISIRs will enable colleges and their critical partners to prepare their own systems and processes to efficiently assemble aid packages. In addition, the Department will also provide open-source tools to support institutions using test ISIRs.