Department of Education officials said the Biden administration strongly supports the policy to make the FAFSA easier for students. But they said the transition to a whole new FAFSA was complicated by the agency’s outdated systems.
Rich Cordray, director of operations for Federal Student Aid, who is responsible for implementing the changes, said in a blog post due for publication Friday that his office “is working hard to modernize the FAFSA system.”
“To seize these new opportunities, FSA must first update the technology system on which the FAFSA form is built,” Cordray added. “Believe it or not, the current system is 45 years old, and while we’ve been running it all these years, it’s just too limited to support these new changes.”
Republicans and Democrats overseeing education policy on Capitol Hill are negotiating a legislative solution that would give the Education Department more time to implement the new FAFSA.
Department officials said they were providing technical assistance to lawmakers working on a legislative deal to extend the deadline. But they said they had not formally proposed specific language to Congress.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (RN.C.), the top Republican on the House education committee, will support the legislation to give the education department more time to implement the FAFSA changes, a confirmed spokesperson at POLITICO.
“We are waiting for a bipartite agreement on this delay because it is nothing more than a technical solution,” said the spokesperson. “We look forward to seeing the Biden administration’s Department of Education step up and make these necessary improvements for future students and borrowers.”
A Democratic aide to the committee, led by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Said lawmakers “are working on a bipartisan plan that will give the FSA the flexibility it needs to effectively implement these important changes to the FAFSA. “
The change in the federal financial aid formula approved by Congress is expected to allow the Department of Education to reduce the FAFSA from 108 questions to 36 questions.
Education Department officials have also pointed out that over the next few months they will be making other changes to student aid that Congress passed last year ahead of schedule. Cordray said in the blog post that students will start seeing these changes by October 1.
For example, the department said it will implement in the coming months a provision in the law that repeals the limit on how long borrowers can attend school without earning interest on their federal student loans based on needs.
Other provisions of the law eliminate the requirement for male students to register with the selective service before receiving federal student aid and remove restrictions on drug-convicted students who receive aid. According to the ministry, these two new policies will also be in place from the next few months.
While questions regarding selective service and drug convictions will remain with the FAFSA until the 2023-24 school year, the department will not consider responses provided by students when determining their eligibility for the. help, officials said.
Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, praised the swift implementation of these provisions but lamented the postponement of the new FAFSA. He said in a statement that the group was “disappointed that some changes that would benefit students are being delayed for another year, until the 2024-25 school year.”
Draeger added that it was important for the Education Department to act quickly but also cautiously in implementing sweeping changes to the process for applying for student aid.
“These changes cannot come soon enough,” he said. “But equally important is that changes to the form are made in an orderly fashion to ensure that there are no disruptions in the application cycle for students or schools.”
Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Attainment Network, which represents groups working to help underrepresented students apply and attend college, echoed those concerns.
“The news of the delay in fully implementing the FAFSA simplification is disappointing, as the urgency for students to access needs-based support has only increased since the passage of this legislation.” Cook said in a statement. “We appreciate that these sweeping changes require attention to detail and upgraded systems to improve, not complicate, the process for students. We will continue to advocate and work with the FSA and Congress to find that balance.”
The Department of Education’s implementation of the FAFSA changes is happening in tandem with another law that Congress passed in 2019 to make it easier for the agency to receive taxpayer information from claimants. helps students and borrowers directly from the IRS.
The bipartisan data-sharing law, known as the FUTURE law, aims to allow the Department of Education to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid by automatically verifying family income information directly with from the IRS.
These laws did not set an implementation deadline, but department officials said on Friday that the automatic data sharing feature would not be available on the FAFSA form until the streamlined FAFSA launched in 2024-25. Until then, borrowers can continue to use the data recovery tool which directs families to an IRS website from which they can import their tax information into the FAFSA.
Data sharing under the FUTURE Act is also intended to allow federal student loan borrowers to automatically enroll and remain enrolled in income-based repayment programs without having to provide documentation of their income information.
The department declined to say when it would start using the IRS data sharing law for income-based repayment programs or other student loan purposes.
The Biden administration’s budget request for the next fiscal year 2022 beginning October 1 targets nearly $ 195 million to implement the sweeping changes Congress has made to student aid in recent years – an increase of almost 90% compared to the previous year.
The money will help pay for technology and a modernization of back-end systems that process applications from students seeking financial aid or borrowers seeking to enroll in income-based loan programs.
Some of the proposed funding will help the Department of Education work with colleges, states and scholarship agencies to update their own systems to accommodate the new FAFSA, according to the department.