NASFAA Urges ED to Bolster Partnership Efforts to Ensure Financial Aid Professionals Can Best Serve Students

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

NASFAA in a letter to both the Department of Education (ED) and Federal Student Aid (FSA) is calling on the department to meet with NASFAA’s leadership to better coordinate on partnership initiatives that will address ongoing operational challenges that are negatively impacting schools and students. While acknowledging the challenging environment the higher education community finds itself in as a result of the pandemic, NASFAA expressed concern over recent decisions from ED and FSA that have resulted in significant workloads being transferred to institutions instead of being addressed by the administration. Some of those issues include: Selective Service database match errors, confusion over the rollout of the Fresh Start initiative, NSLDS modernization, and implementation questions concerning broad debt cancellation, verification, and FAFSA simplification.

In the letter, NASFAA commended FSA on its work implementing the rollout of Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEERF) grants, as well as adjustments to the student loan portfolio that have prioritized the needs of students and borrowers, such as the extension of the pause on student loan payments and interest accrual, and the temporary waiver for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Yet issues stemming from how the department communicates with financial aid offices have prompted significant confusion.

“However, a series of decisions by FSA, especially over the past several months, has resulted in significant confusion for students and increased burden on postsecondary institutions,” the letter reads. “Worse, these major changes often came with little to no advance notice, leaving financial aid administrators and other campus officials scrambling to meet their students’ needs. While in better times these may have represented a frustrating inconvenience, severe staffing shortages in financial aid offices have transformed these events into a crisis.”

NASFAA urged ED to keep financial aid administrators in the loop as to how they can best prepare to carry out the department’s intended goals.

“The financial aid profession is fully invested in being partners with FSA,” the letter said. “However, FSA’s failure to adequately communicate both major events that continue to have significant impact on financial aid offices as well as FSA’s ongoing efforts is eroding that partnership. Clear and timely communications are crucial to restoring and maintaining trust in that partnership.”


Publication Date: 9/8/2022

Angela B | 9/12/2022 3:18:52 PM

The Fresh Start program is a perfect example of limited oversight. Students are being issued Fresh Start letters for Pell Overpayments when the guidance explicitly states it does not cover this. Calls to DRG staff state there was an internal memo that allows them to do this, but nothing was sent out from the Department. We are caught in the middle and students are frustrated.

Carmel F | 9/8/2022 4:17:03 PM

Thank you for addressing the concerns of the financial aid community in your letter to ED/FSA. I no longer feel that we work collaboratively. I often wonder if it is because no one at ED/FSA has ever worked in a financial aid office. Unless you are in the weeds, you don’t know how difficult it is to change processes with little notification or training. I would also like to point out the changes to R2T4 were poorly communicated too. I relied on NASFAA for the majority of my training and assistance with rewriting my R2T4 policy. Again, thank you NASFAA!

Elizabeth Rihl L | 9/8/2022 2:50:02 PM

Kudos, NASFAA! Thank you for seeing the big picture and summarizing the many challenges aid offices have faced due to ill-planned or half-planned initiatives. The Dept. has been building the plane while trying to get our offices to fly it and it's been a turbulent flight the last couple of years!

David S | 9/8/2022 12:33:16 PM

Thank you for going to bat for us, NASFAA. You know that many of us stand ready to help out if you need us.

Ryan W | 9/8/2022 10:13:58 AM

So glad to see this and hope ED/FSA respond. Schools want to do the right thing, but when the dept invests so little time/energy/funding in training and communication and then deploys program reviewers and audit instructions to "catch" schools doing things wrong, it is tough to think of this as any sort of partnership.

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