Kvaal Updates Financial Aid Professionals on ED’s Affordability and Accountability Agenda

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

On day three of the Federal Student Aid (FSA) annual training conference, the Department of Education's (ED) top higher education official, Under Secretary James Kvaal, provided an update on how the department plans to prioritize its commitment to improving student outcomes in higher education.

Kvaal was introduced by Chief Operating Officer Richard Cordray, who recapped the department’s regulatory overhaul, its changes to income-driven repayment (IDR) initiatives, and touted the under secretary’s instrumental role in the administration’s student loan debt relief program.

In his keynote address, Kvaal highlighted ED’s efforts to improve the affordability of higher education and ensure that institutions were held more accountable to student outcomes.

“For more students to experience the benefits of higher education, we have to make it more affordable. I am proud of the progress that we are making,” Kvaal said, citing the $400 increase to the maximum Pell Grant included in the fiscal year 2022 spending deal.

Kvaal also noted the administration’s commitment to the Second Chance Pell program as well as efforts to double the Pell Grant by 2030, but added that the administration has “a long way to go to restore the promise of Pell.”

NASFAA Continues Double Pell Advocacy

In terms of the student loan portfolio, Kvaal said the ongoing payment pause has been a welcomed reprieve for students and that the administration remains confident that it will be successful in the ongoing legal challenges that have halted the debt cancellation program.

However, Kvaal underscored that when payments resume the system could not revert to its pre-pandemic status quo, which saw disturbing racial disparities in loan defaults.

“Here’s the bottom line — when payments resume, we want borrowers to succeed,” Kvaal said.

The issue of payment resumption is one riddled in complications, and NASFAA has joined a handful of other higher education groups detailing recommendations so borrowers are smoothly and successfully transitioned back into repayment.

Kvaal also provided a preview of the department’s work for the year ahead, which will seek to improve the student loan discharge system and aim to implement programs that focus on accountability metrics. 

“Next year we will be pursuing changes to make sure that the programs offered by career schools deliver real value to students and prepare them for success in their chosen fields,” Kvaal said. “We are also strengthening our ability to recover the costs of discharged student loans because taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook when institutions engage in misconduct, and we’re going to make sure that students know before they take out loans if their college has a track record of abuse.”

Following Kvaal’s remarks, department officials provided an update on FSA Partner Connect, the digital front door for partner engagement, during a breakout session.

According to officials, the digital platform will undergo a redesign in the spring of 2023 to consolidate, integrate, and modernize the Knowledge Center, the Federal Student Aid Handbook, partner dashboard and profiles, accounts for students, parents, and borrowers, as well as the student-facing website.

The redesign will also include several eligibility and oversight processes, including an improved pre-eligibility and eligibility application for Title IV aid, a new school closure loan discharge form, and a new third-party servicer inquiry form.

Cordray also reminded participants that all of the virtual conference sessions will be available and accessible online through March 3, 2023.


Publication Date: 12/2/2022

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