ED Confirms Prior Guidance on Release of FAFSA Information

By Karen McCarthy, NASFAA Policy & Federal Relations Staff

The Department of Education's (ED) Privacy and Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) has confirmed verbally to NASFAA its prior guidance that FAFSA data cannot be released by the institution unless the release is for one of the specific purposes permitted by law, even with the student's written authorization. It is still undetermined when and how PTAC will release this guidance formally.

Section 483(a)(3)(E) of the Higher Education Act (HEA) specifies that FAFSA data, which includes information related to Expected Family Contributions (EFCs) and awards, “shall be used only for the application, award, and administration of aid awarded under federal student aid programs, state aid, or aid awarded by eligible institutions or such entities as the Department may designate.”

PTAC staff previously informed NASFAA that personally-identifiable data releases of FAFSA information for purposes other than those authorized in the law would not be permitted, even with the student's authorization. The student must provide the data directly to the requesting party. This guidance was incorporated into NASFAA's paper, "Financial Aid Data Sharing," which was published in June 2017.

Various parties raised concerns about this guidance, as it would disrupt longstanding and widespread practices between schools and outside entities, such as private scholarship providers. PTAC staff agreed to re-evaluate their initial interpretation of the HEA.

Now that the guidance has been reviewed and confirmed, institutions may need to modify their procedures regarding release of FAFSA data to private scholarship providers. It is NASFAA's understanding that many private scholarship providers request that scholarship recipients sign a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) release authorizing the private scholarship provider to obtain FAFSA information directly from the institution. This practice is not permissible under the HEA because the release is not related to federal, state, or institutional aid. The only permissible method for the scholarship provider to receive the FAFSA information under the HEA would be directly from the student.

Questions may be directed to the PTAC Help Desk  by email at PrivacyTA@ed.gov or by phone at 855-249-3072.

 

Publication Date: 9/13/2017


Jan B | 9/19/2017 7:52:49 AM

Certainly an unusual way to receive guidance and/or clarification from the Department of Education. It will be interesting to see their regulatory citations for this guidance when it is published officially.

Tim S | 9/18/2017 8:37:36 PM

Just a note - for that white paper PDF Karen posted, remove the period at the end and it'll work. Thanks!

Karen M | 9/15/2017 10:16:01 AM

That's a good question. ED's legal interpretation is that the HEA provision applies to "information collected or derived from the FAFSA/ISIR (including institutional award and disbursement information)." ED's white paper on data sharing can be found here: http://ptac.ed.gov/sites/default/files/FSA_final.pdf. They will also have a session on this topic at the FSA conference in December.

Lisa K | 9/13/2017 4:25:41 PM

In the second paragraph above, you define "data" as the "information related to Expected Family Contributions (EFCs) and awards" but the statute states that data is "data collected by such electronic version of the forms". Is the interpretation from PTAC supposed to change the meaning of what "data" is? It seems to me that the statute is only referring to data on the FAFSA, not items calculated from data on the FAFSA.

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