FAFSA Woes: Education Department’s $50 Million Plan Falls Short of ExpectationsBy Joy Liwanag
More than a month after the turbulent introduction of the Education Department's new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the higher education landscape continues to grapple with disruptions and setbacks. In response to the challenges, the department has unveiled a $50 million plan, part of the broader FAFSA College Support Strategy. However, this strategy is now facing criticism for falling short of the expectations of college and university administrators.
FAFSA Woes Persist: Education Department's $50 Million Strategy Faces Criticism
The launch of the new FAFSA has been marred by delays and complications, prompting the Education Department to implement measures aimed at assisting colleges in processing financial aid packages efficiently. The $50 million funding, along with the establishment of a concierge service, was anticipated to be a comprehensive solution. However, the response has proven to be less substantive than what many in the higher education community were hoping for.
Cardona's Announcement: A Muted Response and Unfulfilled Expectations
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona took the stage at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators' annual Leadership & Legislative Conference to announce the new plan. Despite Cardona's assurances of the transformative nature of the revamped FAFSA, attendees' expectations were left unmet. Many had anticipated more decisive measures, such as the waiver of income verification requirements or extensions for compliance with gainful-employment rules. The announcement of a concierge service and financial aid experts for under-resourced campuses received a muted response, with disappointment and confusion prevailing among conference participants.
While Cardona's announcement included the positive development of additional test Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) being sent out, the overall sentiment among higher education professionals was one of underwhelm. The lack of more substantial measures to alleviate the burden and anxiety experienced by students, parents, and professionals in the field left many questioning the effectiveness of the department's response to the FAFSA crisis.
NASFAA's Role and Lingering Concerns About the FAFSA Rollout
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) plays a significant role in the department's plan, raising questions about how the nonprofit partner will facilitate the resources provided. NASFAA President Justin Draeger acknowledged the need for assistance but emphasized the importance of loosening income verification requirements. Requests from NASFAA also include clearer communication about time frames and next steps for students, increased customer support availability, and a pause on non-urgent oversight activities.
While the announcement of additional test ISIR forms was met with relief, concerns persist about the technical issues associated with the new FAFSA. The glitch preventing students with parents lacking a Social Security number from completing the form remains unresolved. Despite the allocation of $50 million from the Educational Credit Management Corporation, sourced from federal funds, there are lingering uncertainties about the department's ability to address the challenges effectively and comprehensively.
The Education Department's $50 million plan, accompanied by a concierge service and financial aid experts, has not met the expectations of college and university administrators grappling with the aftermath of the FAFSA rollout. The criticisms and concerns voiced by higher education professionals underscore the need for a more robust and comprehensive approach to address the challenges posed by the revamped FAFSA. As the higher education community continues to navigate this turbulent period, the effectiveness of the department's support strategy remains uncertain.