2020 Year in Review: NASFAA's Policy, Grant, and Advocacy Efforts

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

In the highly unpredictable year of 2020, NASFAA and its members across the country made great strides in influencing important policy decisions regarding college access, affordability, simplification, transparency, and federal aid for higher education in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. NASFAA engaged in numerous advocacy, grant-funded, and public policy undertakings to support its mission of promoting programs that remove financial barriers and ensure student access to postsecondary education.

By the end of the year, NASFAA will have hosted one in-person and two virtual Advocacy Pipeline events with Capitol Hill staffers, finding a way for financial aid administrators from across the country to make their voices heard despite the difficulties brought on by the pandemic. NASFAA also hosted a number of timely webinars highlighting COVID-19 related topics, and updated the annual National Student Aid Profile, while rolling out a 10-paper series exploring ways to make the FAFSA and the overall federal student aid process, more efficient and streamlined for applicants and their families.

Read on for a comprehensive list of other actions NASFAA and its members took in 2020.

Coronavirus Coverage

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Web Center

This web center was created to keep NASFAA members and the financial aid community updated on pertinent news related to the coronavirus which has been updated daily to reflect the latest policy updates from Congress and the Department of Education.

NASFAA Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) Reference Page

Department of Education guidance on the use of Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) funds is changing on an almost daily basis. This reference page, which provides fast facts and frequently asked questions and answers on the student portion of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, was developed to assist financial aid administrators and other offices on college campuses in making decisions about the distribution of these funds. Check back often as NASFAA will continue to update this reference page as any new guidance becomes available.

NASFAA Resources and Advocacy in the Time of COVID-19

Throughout the pandemic NASFAA has been at the forefront of advocacy efforts and has had a number of our congressional requests realized in legislation. NASFAA has also been heavily engaged with the higher education community and has been asked to create, present, or participate in webinars or learning sessions as a trusted source of knowledge.

CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) Timeline

NASFAA's timeline outlines important dates detailing new guidance, altered guidance, and calls for comment on aspects of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund is now updated to include the Department of Education's interim final rule on student emergency grant eligibility.


Throughout the pandemic NASFAA has provided a number of webinars, free of charge to NASFAA members and non-members highlighting COVID-19-related topics, legislation, and guidance from the Department of Education, and answer some of the most common questions related to Title IV. They include September 30, 2020 - COVID-19 and Federal Student Aid: Where Are We Now?, June 12, 2020 - COVID-19 and Federal Student Aid: As it Stands and May 20, 2020 - COVID-19 and Federal Student Aid: Current Status

NASFAA on the Record: COVID-19

NASFAA has been actively engaged in efforts by Congress and the Department of Education to extend relief to students and institutions and has specifically advocated for borrower relief at the outset of the pandemic along with extending those protections while the crisis continues.

Survey on Professional Judgement and COVID-19

NASFAA conducted a pair of surveys on anticipated requests for professional judgment (PJ) in the wake of the pandemic. The reports, conducted with participation from primary contacts at NASFAA member institutions, aims to provide additional information on how COVID-19 has impacted the number of PJ requests that aid offices have received this year.

Advocacy Activities and Materials

Priorities for President-Elect Joe Biden’s Administration 

As President-elect Joe Biden and a new Congress prepare to take office in January amid a global pandemic, the importance of investing in and strengthening the nation's postsecondary education system is of paramount importance. Following the 2020 Presidential Election, NASFAA released a set of priorities outlining actions the new president and new Congress should take to refocus, reinvest, and recalibrate our country's policies around postsecondary education. The brief explains that robust, streamlined student aid policy must play a central role in this effort and calls on the incoming Biden administration and 117th Congress to deliver additional COVID-19 relief to students and institutions, strengthen the Federal Pell Grant Program, simplify the federal financial aid application process, curb student indebtedness and simplify repayment, and enhance student aid delivery.

COVID Relief Advocacy Campaign

With ongoing debates surrounding coronavirus aid NASFAA provided the higher education community with an advocacy campaign resource to assist in outreach to lawmakers in calling for funding for higher education, drafting sample letters and talking points to share with lawmakers. 

NASFAA’s Advocacy Pipeline Goes Virtual 

During the last week of October, NASFAA held its first-ever virtual Advocacy Pipeline, during which five members representing graduate and professional (G/P) schools met with congressional staffers. While in-person meetings on Capitol Hill came to halt in March, the virtual pipeline allowed the financial aid community to continue participating in direct advocacy despite the ongoing pandemic. This is the fifth year that NASFAA has hosted the "G/P Hill Day" advocacy event, focused specifically on student aid issues impacting graduate and professional students. This year, the group discussed legislative priorities such as eliminating student loan origination fees, restoring subsidized loan eligibility, preserving Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and simplifying loan repayment.

New in 2020: NASFAA Launches State Advocacy Efforts 

NASFAA is committed to providing support to states on state-based financial aid issues with the goal of advancing the practitioner role in state policy development. In March of 2020 NASFAA brought on an Assistant Director of State Relations and Advocacy to spearhead these efforts and is now looking to gather valuable feedback from members who want to have their respective state and regional associations more engaged in state-level advocacy. Members of the State Advocacy Task Force will serve as collaborators, innovators, and sounding boards as NASFAA develops its role in state advocacy and engagement. 

NASFAA has also developed a State Advocacy Toolkit to provide resources and materials to support state-level advocacy for regions, states, institutions, and individuals interested in becoming more engaged in state-level student aid policy.

Grant & Research Initiatives

FAFSA Paper Series, Grant from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In summer 2019, NASFAA received grant funding to commission a 10-paper series exploring ways to make the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and the overall federal student aid process, more efficient and streamlined for applicants and their families. NASFAA, using funding provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, updated its 2015 FAFSA simplification proposal and enlisted other subject-matter experts to both assess the current validity of previous work done on FAFSA efficiency and explore new simplification concepts. We encourage readers to read the individually authored papers to learn more about each paper's topic and the recommendations of its authors.

Providing Assistance and Evaluating CARES Act Funds, Grant from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In 2020, NASFAA was awarded a pair of grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to perform COVID-related work and evaluate CARES Act funds by providing technical assistance activities, and to support an evaluation of how universities are distributing the aid and whether there are lessons learned for future policy development, and aid in NASFAA’s continued support to our members through technical assistance related to COVID-19 needs.

2020 NASFAA Administrative Burden Report

As follow-up to studies it conducted in 2010 and 2015, NASFAA again surveyed financial aid professionals at its member institutions in an effort to better understand how ongoing regulatory changes are affecting college financial aid offices. The 2020 NASFAA Administrative Burden Survey (published May 2020). The recommendations put forth in this report address the causes associated with resource constraints and call on Congress and the Department of Education (ED) to take reasonable steps to reduce administrative burden.

Existing Short-Term Postsecondary Programs Analysis

NASFAA, in partnership with Advance CTE and the Association of Career & Technical Education, examined the current national landscape of short-term postsecondary programs to learn more about what they offer, who they serve, and how their graduates fare in the workforce. Read the full report to learn about the challenges institutions face in enrolling students, the challenges students face paying for these programs, and the proposals to extend Title IV student aid — like Pell Grants — to short-term programs. 

2020 National Student Aid Profile

NASFAA’s National Student Aid Profile provides an overview of 2020 federal student aid programs, a resource that lawmakers, congressional staffers, and members of the media can rely on to gain background on the basics of the federal student financial aid programs, how they have been funded over time, and how many students are reached each year. This resource is helpful for writing articles on federal student aid programs, particularly as lawmakers examine program funding levels and effectiveness.


NASFAA Signs on to Community Letter in Support of Bill Securing GI Benefits Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

March 18, 2020 - NASFAA joined the higher education community in a letter to House leadership calling for Congress to pass emergency legislation ensuring student veterans continue to receive the full benefits of the GI Bill as colleges close amid the coronavirus outbreak.

NASFAA Urges Congress to Provide Relief to Student Loan Borrowers Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

March 20, 2020 - NASFAA joined the American Council on Education and the Institute for College Access and Success in a letter to lawmakers, urging them to provide immediate relief to student loan borrowers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Higher Education Community Urges ED to Delay Action on Foreign Gifts ICR During COVID-19 Outbreak

March 24, 2020 - NASFAA joined dozens of other organizations urging the Department of Education to delay any further action on the proposed Section 117 foreign gifts and contracts information collection request during the coronavirus outbreak.

ACE Letter to Secretary on Distribution of CARES Act Funds

April 2, 2020 - Letter to Secretary Betsy DeVos on the need to distribute the higher education emergency relief funds included in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act as soon as possible and provide schools with as much flexibility as possible.

NASFAA Asks ED for Flexibility in Verification Due to COVID-19 Disruptions

April 3, 2020 - NASFAA joined NCAN and NACAC in a letter to the Department of Education (ED) asking for financial aid verification flexibility amid the coronavirus global pandemic.

NASFAA Joins Higher Education Community in Ask for Increased Funding in Fourth COVID Relief Package

April 9, 2020 - NASFAA joined the higher education community in asking congressional leadership for additional funding — roughly $47 billion — in the next coronavirus relief package.

NASFAA Joins Letter in Support of the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020

April 13, 2020 - NASFAA joined other higher education organizations in a letter expressing support for the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, which would provide flexibility to address disruptions to veterans' education benefits.

NASFAA Urges Treasury, IRS to Ensure CARES Act Emergency Aid to Students Is Non-Taxable

April 16, 2020 - NASFAA joined NACUBO and other organizations in a letter to the Department of Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service, urging them to ensure emergency grant aid to students is treated as a non-taxable qualified disaster relief payment.

Higher Education Community Pushes for Expanded Student Debt Relief During Coronavirus Pandemic

April 20, 2020 - NASFAA joined other higher education organizations in a letter to House leadership, urging lawmakers to expand on relief for student loan borrowers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Higher Education Community Urges Lawmakers to Ensure CARES Act Grants Are Not Taxable

April 21, 2020 - NASFAA joined others in the higher education community in a letter to congressional appropriators, urging them to ensure CARES Act emergency grant aid to students is not considered taxable income.

ACE letter to Rep Doggett endorsing the American Opportunity Student Tax Relief Act of 2020 

May 6, 2020 - Letter signed by NASFAA and 15 other associations to Representative Lloyd Doggett in support of the American Opportunity Student Tax Relief Act of 2020.

Higher Education Community Presses Congress for Technical Fixes in CARES Act

May 7, 2020 - NASFAA joined the higher education community in a letter to the House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee asking for clarifications and technical corrections to the CARES Act.

NASFAA Joins in Letter in Support of Heroes Act

May 14, 2020 - NASFAA joined others in the higher education community in a letter to House leadership, expressing support for the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act.

Higher Education Community Urges Senate to Provide Additional Financial Support Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

May 29, 2020 - NASFAA joined the higher education community in a letter to Senate leadership, urging lawmakers to provide additional financial support for higher education students and institutions in the next COVID-19 relief package.

ACE Letter to Senate HELP Committee on College Reopening Hearing

June 3, 2020 - The higher education community, including NASFAA, sent a letter thanking Sens. Alexander and Murray for holding the “COVID-19: Going Back to College Safely” hearing on June 4, 2020. The letter urges the committee to provide higher education with additional federal funding to help offset the financial disruptions caused by the coronavirus. 

Community Sends Letter to Senate Outlining College Reopening Costs 

July 2, 2020  - The higher education community, including NASFAA, sent a letter to Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) addressing the costs involved in safely reopening college campuses this fall.

Higher Education Community Letter Opposing ICE Policy for International Students Fall 2020

July 10, 2020 - NASFAA joined in a letter opposing "in the strongest possible terms" July 6 guidance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would prohibit international students from remaining in the country for online fall instruction.

Community Asks Congress to Focus on Implementation

July 22, 2020 - The higher education community, including NASFAA, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) requesting that Congress consider the implementation and administrative complexities surrounding how the Department of Education (ED) may implement provisions included in the next COVID-19 supplemental appropriations bill.

Community Asks DHS for Clarity on International Students

July 22, 2020 - NASFAA joined 45 other higher education associations in sending a letter to the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf requesting additional guidance around the status of incoming international students for the upcoming fall semester.

NASFAA Joins Request for Extended Borrower Relief

July 29, 2020 - NASFAA joined 46 other higher education groups in sending a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) requesting that the Senate provide expanded student loan borrower relief provisions in its next COVID-19 supplemental bill.

NASFAA Urges Senate Leadership to Extend CARES Act Student Loan Relief

August 6, 2020 - NASFAA wrote to Senate leadership calling for protections enacted under the CARES Act for student loan borrowers, including the suspension of payments and interest accrual, to be extended before they expire at the end of September.

Higher Education Community Asks Congress to Protect International Student Visas Under the National Defense Authorization Act

September 15, 2020 - The higher education community, including NASFAA, sent a letter to the House and Senate Armed Services and Judiciary committees in support of Sec. 1763 of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which would allow international students to study online until the end of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

NASFAA Joins Community Request for Extension of GI Flexibility

September 23, 2020 - NASFAA joined a group of higher education associations in asking Congress to extend existing flexibilities designed to ensure that veteran education benefits are not disrupted because of COVID-19. With current flexibilities set to expire December 21, 2020, the letter expresses support for the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committees' efforts to extend the provisions until December 2021.

Higher Education Community Asks Congress for $120 Billion in Pandemic Relief Funding

September 25, 2020 - The higher education community, including NASFAA, sent a letter to Congressional leadership requesting that any supplemental funding bill include at least $120 billion for higher education in order to partially mitigate the challenges that students and institutions are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Higher Ed Groups Urge ED to Extend Repayment Relief Through Sept. 2021

November 2, 2020 - Amid the COVID-19 crisis, NASFAA, TICAS, and ACE sent a letter to ED Secretary Betsy DeVos urging the administration to extend borrower protection provisions.


Last year NASFAA submitted comments on established regulations, policies, and processes concerning the CARES Act, distance education and innovation proposed rules and pandemic relief funding . Visit our Department of Education Regulatory or Process Issues or Other Executive Branch Departments page to see past comments and requests for action.

NASFAA Comments on TEACH Faith-based Entities
January 10, 2020 - NASFAA submitted comments in response to a Department of Education (ED) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) detailing proposed changes to Title IV eligibility for faith-based entities and on the TEACH grant program.

NASFAA Responds to ED Request for Comment on Improving PSLF Application and Certification Forms

March 30, 2020 - NASFAA submitted comments to the Department of Education suggesting ways to improve the proposed combined Public Service Loan Forgiveness Application and Certification form.

NASFAA Submits Comments on Proposed Distance Education and Innovation Rules
May 4, 2020 - NASFAA on Monday submitted comments on the Department of Education's (ED) proposed rules on distance education and innovation. Many of the proposed changes fall in line with NASFAA's Modernizing Title IV Aid task force recommendations.

NASFAA Comments on CARES Act Interim Final Rule

July 17, 2020 - In comments in response to the Department of Education's interim final rule on CARES Act emergency grant eligibility, NASFAA highlighted the chaos the rapidly changing guidance caused for institutions and students.

NASFAA Submits Comments on Federal Student Aid 2020-24 Strategic Plan
October 22, 2020 - NASFAA submitted comments on Federal Student Aid's (FSA) draft Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2020-24.

NASFAA Comments on Proposed Quarterly Data Collection Form for CARES Act HEERF Recipients 

November 27, 2020 - NASFAA submitted comments in response to ED's September 28, 2020 request for stakeholder feedback on its proposed quarterly budget and expenditures report (QBER) for CARES Act HEERF recipients to satisfy CARES Act requirements.

NASFAA Comments on Proposed Annual Data Collection Form for CARES Act HEERF Recipients

December 2, 2020 - NASFAA submitted comments in response to ED's November 2 request for stakeholder feedback on its proposed annual reporting form for CARES Act HEERF recipients to satisfy CARES Act requirements.


Publication Date: 12/21/2020

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