The Department of Education (ED) on Tuesday announced that it would be making changes to the verification process for the 2021-22 award year as a means of providing relief to students financially challenged by the pandemic and aim to reduce barriers to enrollment for millions of low-income students to access financial aid.
“Each year, the verification process poses unnecessary hurdles for students who are most in need of student financial assistance,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “Verification disproportionately impacts low-income students, the very same population that has been most negatively impacted by the pandemic. This singular act from the Department of Education provides sweeping relief to students and schools when they need it most, and will fast track financial aid dollars to students who are otherwise mired in bureaucratic red tape.”
Specifically, effective July 13, 2021 and for the remainder of the 2021-22 FAFSA processing and verification cycle, ED is waiving verification requirements for most Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) information, except for identity/statement of educational purpose and high school completion status under verification tracking groups V4 and V5.
Institutions may apply the waiver to any applicant selected for verification for whom verification is not yet completed, e.g., if documents have been collected or requested, but verification has not been completed, or if an institution has not started the verification process. However, this does not exempt institutions from reviewing all documents for conflicting information concerning a student’s eligibility, nor does it exempt institutions from resolving student eligibility-related c-codes.
Applicants will continue to be selected for verification by the Central Processing System (CPS) through the 2021-22 year, and the current messaging to selected applicants on the Student Aid Report (SAR) will remain.
Schools must continue to report a valid verification status code for every student selected for verification by the CPS. For applicants for whom the school is exercising the verification waiver, institutions should report an “S” (student is selected for verification but is exempt under an allowable exclusion). "Blank" is not an acceptable verification status code, except in cases where a student is selected after he or she is no longer enrolled at your institution.
ED has not yet released the 2022-23 verification items and acceptable documentation, so it is unknown if the current waiver will extend into the 2022-23 year.
“This has been an exceptionally tough year,” said Richard Cordray, Chief Operating Officer of Federal Student Aid (FSA). “We need to ensure students have the most straightforward path to acquiring the financial aid they need to enroll in college and continue their path to a degree. Targeting verification to focus on identity theft and fraud this aid cycle, ensures we address immediate student needs, continue to protect the integrity of the Federal Pell Grant Program, and reduce barriers to access for underserved students.”
Cordray also said that FSA would continue to evaluate potential long-term improvements that would make verification more equitable and prevent fraud.
According to FSA these changes will aim to alleviate some of the burden faced by financial aid administrators for the upcoming enrollment session.
By reducing the verification burden FSA is urging aid administrators to devote more resources to administering emergency relief funds, updating FAFSA information for students who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and helping students learn about and access emergency financial aid grants provided under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
“This cycle's changes are more important than ever in these times of exacerbated inequities from the pandemic,” said Kim Cook, the executive director of the National College Attainment Network, in a statement.
“Additionally, this relief also helps our advisers and school counselors to better focus their time on outreach and support to students to stay on track for their postsecondary goals. This is especially important as we seek to build back from historic college enrollment drops of over 10% for students from low-income backgrounds,” she said.
The announcement from FSA garnered praise from House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) who was encouraged by the administration’s effort to streamline the financial aid process.
“The Education Department’s decision to streamline the financial aid verification process is an important and sensible step to help students stay in school and complete their degrees,” Scott said. “In the wake of the disruption caused by the pandemic, the last thing eligible students should have to worry about is losing their financial aid and jeopardizing their future because of paperwork.”
NASFAA data has shown that the verification process does not impact most financial aid awards and that prior to the pandemic verification efforts had not been well targeted and were grossly imbalanced. NASFAA continues to advocate on behalf of its members and the students they aid, providing thoughtful and burden-reducing proposals for changes to the verification process.
Stay tuned to Today’s News for more developments on changes being made to the verification process.
Publication Date: 7/14/2021