By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter
Financial aid professionals across the country again gathered — albeit virtually — for the Office of Federal Student Aid’s (FSA) annual training conference, which kicked off on Tuesday. Chief Operating Officer Richard Cordray welcomed attendees and provided updates on regulatory and programmatic changes, before handing things off to other top officials.
Cordray thanked the financial aid community for coming together to focus on the needs of students, parents, and borrowers alike.
“The guidance you provide is crucial to help students and families deal with the complexities of paying for college. They rely on your expertise to navigate the financial aid process from beginning to end,” Cordray said. “In turn, we also rely on you to help us implement the Title IV programs. Our partnership funds America's future one student at a time.”
Cordray also noted that while FSA initially transitioned to a virtual format for the conference amid the height of the pandemic, the agency plans to continue going virtual to allow for more professionals to participate in the gathering.
Last year, Cordray noted three major challenges that FSA was looking to address, stemming from overhauling the student loan servicing landscape, regulatory updates and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, as well as the return to federal student loan repayment.
On Tuesday, Cordray shared how FSA went about transferring roughly 14 million accounts to new servicers due to changes in contracts, and highlighted FSA’s efforts to implement its Next Gen environment that will focus on reducing delinquency and default and provide more resources to borrowers.
He also touted the impact of the PSLF limited waiver and future regulatory changes that will enable more borrowers to access the program, before diving into the status of restarting federal student loan repayments and interest accrual — which has continually been delayed. Cordray largely reiterated the White House’s most recent announcement allowing the pause to continue until the legal challenges preventing the implementation of the student loan debt cancellation program come to a resolution, or, if no resolution has been reached by June 30, 2023, beginning repayment 60 days after that.
“The application itself was elegantly simple. Most borrowers found they could complete it easily in less than 5 minutes, which generated a large chorus of positive comments,” Cordray said. “But we have not yet arrived at the finish line.”
In terms of FSA’s agenda for the year ahead, Cordray said the agency was focused on rolling out updates to FAFSA simplification, enhancing its focus on holding schools accountable to both students and taxpayers by building partnership with other federal agencies to ensure that institutions are not engaging in misconduct, and making continued improvements and enhancements to the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS).
For additional information on FSA’s roadmap, Cordary pointed to the agency’s strategic plan for fiscal years 2023-27 and also urged financial aid professionals to sign up for a new quarterly cybersecurity newsletter.
In a separate session on the StudentAid.gov website, FSA speakers highlighted recent improvements, noting the implementation of Aidan, a virtual assistant meant to troubleshoot issues for users filling out their FAFSA application, and the implementation of two-step verification.
The speakers also spoke about the PSLF help tool, enhancements to the PSLF employer search tool, which allows users to search for qualifying PSLF employers without logging in to use the system.
As for future changes, the speakers said FSA will be rolling out an electronic signature solution for PSLF for both applicants and employers. Additionally, the speakers said FSA will integrate the StudentAid.gov with the PSLF servicer MOHELA to “further enhance the customer experience.”
Later on Tuesday, Federal Student Aid (FSA) officials detailed the latest activities concerning negotiated rulemaking, FAFSA simplification, and other new guidance.
FSA officials highlighted areas of consensus that came out of last year’s negotiated rulemaking committees. During the most recent committees, consensus checks were broken down by issue as opposed to more expansive topic discussions which ultimately allowed for more areas of consensus than in years past. Previously, when voting on an expansive package, a single issue within the outlined framework could derail discussions entirely.
In Tuesday’s session presenters summarized the changes to final rules on borrower defense, income capitalization, total and permanent disability and closed school discharges, false certification discharge, and PSLF. Additionally, officials provided an overview of final rules on 90/10 rule, Prison Education Programs, and changes in ownership.
For a full recap of all the recent Negotiated Rulemaking committee action see NASFAA’s Negotiated Rulemaking Page which will be continually updated with new developments.
The presentation then turned to recent policy guidance, including: requirements for distribution of voter registration forms, changes to 2022-23 verification requirements, written arrangements, eligible noncitizen updates for Afghan arrivals, 2023-24 FAFSA information to be verified and acceptable documentation, and cash management.
In terms of recent policy guidance, FSA’s presentation primarily delved into changes related to the FAFSA Simplification Act, and covered the continued phased implementation of the law.
They also previewed what professionals can expect for 2024-25, pledging an improved FAFSA experience for students, having the Student Aid Index (SAI) replace expected family contribution (EFC), getting income generally provided by IRS through Direct Data Exchange (DDX), changes to Pell Grant calculation and verification selection criteria, as well as collection of Federal Work-Study (FWS) earnings in the Common Origination and Disbursement (COD) website.
Officials also updated attendees on the status of the congressional budget process for fiscal year 2023, which is still in the process of being wrapped up. Due to the delayed process, there are no final Pell Grant award amounts for the 2023-24 award year for disbursement schedules.
Congress has until December 16 to address the annual budget. With negotiations ongoing, it is possible that lawmakers could seek to pass a massive omnibus package or enact a year-long continuing resolution that would keep government spending at the same levels as fiscal year 2022.
Officials ended the session by reminding participants that the COVID-19 national emergency declaration will continue through at least February 2023 and that COVID-19 Title IV flexibilities and waivers continue to apply for the duration of the declaration.
Publication Date: 11/30/2022
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