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Education Department officials said Biden’s government strongly supports the policy of making FAFSA easier for students to use. But they said the transition to a brand new FAFSA was made difficult by the agency’s outdated systems.
Rich Cordray, chief operating officer for Federal Student Aid, who is responsible for implementing the changes, said in a blog post due Friday that his office was “working hard to modernize the FAFSA system.”
“To take advantage of these new opportunities, the FSA must first update the technology system on which the FAFSA form is based,” added Cordray. “Believe it or not, the current system is 45 years old, and while we’ve got it working 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 bill that would give the Department of Education more time to implement the new FAFSA.
Ministry officials said they are providing technical assistance to lawmakers who are working on a legislative agreement to extend the deadline. But they said they hadn’t officially proposed a specific language to Congress.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (RN.C.), the top Republican on the House of Representatives Education Committee, will support legislation to give the Department of Education more time to implement FAFSA changes, a spokesman told POLITICO.
“We expect a bipartisan agreement on this delay, as this is nothing more than a technical solution,” said the spokesman. “We look forward to the Education Department stepping up the Biden administration and making these necessary improvements for future students and borrowers.”
A Democratic adviser on the committee, chaired by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Said lawmakers “are working on a bipartisan plan that will give the FSA the flexibility to effectively implement these important changes to the FAFSA . “
The change to the federal grant formula, approved by Congress, is designed to allow the Department of Education to reduce the FAFSA from 108 to 36 questions.
Education Department officials also stressed that they will be making further changes in the coming months to student aid, which Congress passed earlier than planned last year. Cordray said in the blog post that students would see these changes starting October 1.
For example, the ministry said it would introduce a provision into law in the coming months that removes the limit on how long borrowers can attend school without paying interest on their federal need-based student loans.
Other provisions of the law remove the requirement that male students register with the selection service before receiving government grants and remove restrictions on students with drug convictions who receive grants. According to the ministry, both new guidelines will come into force in the coming months.
While the selective service and drug convictions questions will remain with the FAFSA until the 2023-24 school year, the department will not consider the answers students provide in determining their eligibility for help, officials said.
Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, praised the early 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 benefit students have been postponed for an additional year through the 2024-25 school year”.
Draeger added that it was important for the Ministry of Education to implement the far-reaching changes to the application process for study grants quickly but also carefully.
“These changes cannot come soon enough,” he said. “But it is just as important that changes to the form are made in an orderly manner to ensure that the application cycle for students and schools is not interrupted.”
Kim Cook, the executive director of the National College Attainment Network, which represents groups that help underrepresented students apply for and attend college, shared these concerns.
“The news of the delay in full implementation of FAFSA simplification is disappointing as the urgency for students to access needs-based assistance has only increased since this law was passed,” Cook said in a statement of attention to detail and updated systems to improve, not complicate, the process for students. We will continue to advocate and work with the FSA and Congress to achieve this balance. “
The Department of Education’s implementation of the FAFSA changes comes along with another law passed by Congress in 2019 to allow the agency to receive taxpayer information from student grant applicants and borrowers directly from the IRS.
The bipartisan data-sharing law, known as the FUTURE Act, is designed to allow the Department of Education to determine a student’s eligibility for financial assistance by automatically reviewing family income information directly from the IRS.
These laws didn’t set a specific deadline for implementation, but department officials said Friday that the automatic data sharing feature would not be available on the FAFSA form until the tweaked FAFSA 2024-25 debuts. Until then, borrowers can continue to use the Data Retrieval Tool, which directs families to an IRS website from which they can import their tax information into the FAFSA.
The data sharing under the FUTURE Act is also designed to enable federal student loan borrowers to automatically sign up for income-based repayment programs and remain enrolled without having to provide their income information.
The department declined to say when it would start using the IRS Data Exchange Act for income-based repayment programs or other student loan purposes.
The Biden government’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year 2022, beginning October 1, provides nearly $ 195 million to implement the sweeping changes Congress has made to student aid over the past few years – an increase of almost 90 percent compared to the previous year.
The money will help pay for the technology and modernization of back-end systems that process applications from students seeking financial assistance or borrowers looking to sign up for income-based loan programs.
Part of the proposed funding will help the Department of Education work with colleges, states, and scholarship organizations to update their own systems to meet the new FAFSA, the department said.