Conference Roundup: FSA Outlines Targets for Meeting Monumental Challenges and NASFAA Touts Its Future Policy Goals

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

The NASFAA 2021 Virtual Conference embarked on detailed conversations on Thursday’s breakout sessions, covering some of the most pressing issues facing the financial aid community.

With insight from the Department of Education (ED) leadership — which included Richard Cordray, chief operating officer at the Office of Federal Student (FSA), and Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper, who serves as acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education — NASFAA provided members with a thorough discussion of the pathway forward for a host of financial aid centered topics ranging from the negotiated rulemaking process, student loan repayments to implementing congressionally approved legislation, shedding light on how agency leaders will engage to shape the months and years ahead.

Some of the most pressing questions for FSA center around the current pause on federally-held student loans, which raises issues about how the department will reengage borrowers into the eventual repayment period, what that process will look like, and how conversations and new policies concerning debt relief will impact that paradigm.

“We face difficult and unprecedented decisions about the shape and future of federal student loan programs,” Cordray said. “The pandemic has pushed us out of our accustomed grooves and forced us to rethink many things we’ve taken for granted.”

ED has pledged to provide updates on how it will eventually transition student loan borrowers back into repayment with more concrete actions set to be communicated in the near future so that borrowers can be prepared for the end of the federal benefit and services can ramp up their communications.

“Much has been said about federal student loan forgiveness as various people in groups have staked out different positions. It is not my purpose here today to opine on what might or might not happen or even what should happen,” Cordray said. “What I will say is that whatever decisions are made, and they’ll be made at the White House, FSA stands ready to operationalize those decisions and make them work for everyone involved.”

Cordray went on to describe how FSA would approach a variety of issues stemming from implementation of the FUTURE Act, PSLF and more targeted questions on what the agency needs to consider in onboarding borrowers into repayment and ensuring successful outcomes.

“If we get these choices right in the months ahead we can secure this crucial cornerstone of America's progress in the world,” Corday said. “Millions of young people who are not even aware of the details of our day-to-day work will benefit enormously as we find ways to execute better.”

Conference attendees also got insight into how FSA is addressing post-pandemic needs for students. Cooper focused her commentary on addressing the obstacles faced by students who are still trying to manage the higher education system during the pandemic and said ED would be working to ensure that the financial aid process remains simplified, transparent and seamless. 

“Not all students were able to persist during this pandemic, we lost several and we need to re-enroll and re-engage all of them,” Cooper said. 

She also went on to tout the Biden administration’s main principles for its education agenda, which Cooper outlined as addressing students’ needs related to recovering from the pandemic, improving affordability of higher education, administering improved outcomes for students, and addressing equity concerns.

“We at the department of education are your partners in these efforts and in my first six months on the job I have relied heavily on NASFAA’s leaders, Justin, Megan and Karen, and NASFAA members, like those of you who have participated in our listening sessions,” Cooper said.

Following the discussion with FSA leadership, NASFAA National Chair FAAC® Brenda Hicks, director of financial aid at Southwestern College, introduced conference attendees to Melanie Storey, deputy director of Policy Implementation and Oversight (PIO) at FSA, and David Musser director of the Policy Innovation and Dissemination Group at FSA, who provided listeners with an overview of the latest federal and legislative guidance impacting ED.

Conference attendees also heard directly from NASFAA leadership with Brenda Hicks  recognizing Brent Tener, director of student financial aid and scholarships at Vanderbilt University, as NASFAA’s National Chair-Elect.

“I have a lot of hope for the coming year when I will be able to see you in person,” Hicks said. “I have hope as we work together to implement a FAFSA which will streamline the aid process and significantly decrease, fingers crossed, verification.”

On the public policy front NASFAA President Justin Draeger, and Megan Coval, vice president of policy and federal relations, provided attendees with a detailed public policy picture for financial aid diving into FAFSA simplification, college affordability stemming from free college proposal matrixes, doubling the Pell Grant and gauging attendees perspectives on a number of financial aid issues.

Megan then guided members through the different pathways forwards for these and a host of policy proposals which include details on the annual appropriations process, budget reconciliation and the potential for a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. 

We encourage you to check out the conference schedule, join the conversation on social media this week using #NASFAA2021, listen to our specially curated NASFAA 2021 Playlist for some fun tunes, and learn more about each of our 2021 exhibitors in their interactive, virtual exhibit booths.


Publication Date: 6/25/2021

David S | 6/25/2021 11:20:24 AM

Whenever loan payments start back up, the Department should have a 6-month moratorium on starting up the default clock. If everyone is nervous about starting to collect payments after a year and a half or so for even the best-equipped and financially prepared borrowers, imagine the challenges facing those struggling. No harm would come in taking a phased-in approach to this.

Oh, and some debt cancellation is appropriate. Income caps, limit the cancellation instead of forgiving it all, limit cancellation to those who didn't earn a degree, whatever, work out the details. But do something.

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