October 10, 2022
The long-awaited simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid should be open next fall, but financial aid administrators and college access advocates are skeptical that the U.S. Department of Education can meet that deadline.
The department is slated to roll out the shorter FAFSA next October, which will be used for financial aid awarded in the 2024–25 academic year. Before then, colleges and universities will need to know what the form will look like, how to comply with the new rules and how eligibility will be calculated. The army of counselors, college access groups and financial aid officers who help students fill out the form will need to be trained.
Exactly where the department stands on the simplification process is unknown—concerning institutions, advocates and families—and concrete guidance has been scant so far, even as changes start rolling out this year.
Higher education associations and advocates acknowledged that the department is juggling many projects and its stretched staffers are likely doing the best they can. Still, they are worried about the department’s pace of implementation and will be watching the process closely.
“Even in a vacuum, where this was the only thing that the department was working on, this is complicated, important stuff, and the significance of getting it right is really high,” said Jonathan Fansmith, assistant vice president of government relations for the American Council on Education. “So it would be hard to do and it takes time and careful consideration, but we’re not in a vacuum.”
The overhaul of the financial aid system that changes how students apply for financial aid and how that aid is disbursed has been in the works for years, but the final stages come amid a busy time for the department’s student aid office. The department is rolling out a debt-relief program for more than 40 million Americans, revamping the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and resuming student loan repayments in January, among other projects.