Q&A With Gail Holt, Chair of the FAFSA Simplification Implementation Working Group

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

With the FAFSA Simplification Implementation Working Group’s efforts well under way, chair Gail Holt spoke with NASFAA about the group’s work and the roadmap ahead for FAFSA simplification.

Ms. Gail W. Holt width=

The purpose of the FAFSA Simplification Implementation Working Group is to provide campus-level feedback, perspective, and insight to both NASFAA and the Department of Education (ED) through the implementation process.

Significant changes to federal student aid policy, including simplifying the FAFSA application, have been enacted through the appropriations process and those changes are currently in the process of being implemented by ED. In addition to the working group’s efforts to engage with ED and ensure institutional voices are represented in the process, NASFAA has also developed the FAFSA Simplification web center which offers a number of resources and tools for NASFAA members looking to track the FAFSA’s impending rollout.

Gail is the dean of financial aid at Amherst College. Beyond serving as chair of this working group, Gail is also a member of the Policy Rapid Response Network Task Force. She has also worked to keep NASFAA members updated on the latest information concerning FAFSA simplification in NASFAA webinars.

Read on to find out more about Gail’s mission for the FAFSA Simplification Implementation Working Group.

TN: What issue is the working group trying to address?

The main goal of the task force is to really shepherd and support the membership through the implementation of FAFSA simplification that's being conducted by ED. The department is doing the heavy lifting, but we are the downward recipients and it's important that we include our voice of expertise as it spans the entire membership in really a two-way direction.

We're adding expertise for the Department of Education to deliver superior implementation and we’re also sharing with our membership ways that they can be prepared and know what's coming for a smooth implementation. I see us as sort of a sherpa guide through this whole thing.

TN: What are you hoping the working group accomplishes?

I am hopeful that we will be able to support the NASFAA membership, as well as students and families, in preparing for the most seamless transition possible. Any change of this magnitude will not be without struggle, it will not be without bumps, and hopefully not too many bruises.

I think that communication and preparation will help all of us to feel empowered to lead through this significant change, whether we're leading our colleges, whether we're leading our financial aid teams, whether we're leading students and applicants.

TN: How concerned are you about the rollout of FAFSA simplification?

That is a tough question to answer. I believe wholeheartedly that the department is working as fervently and as hard as they possibly can to build the best rollout in a timely fashion. We want to trust that and we also want to get more information to be able to take more actions and know, as a working group, what else can we do to support the membership, whether it's through webinars, and other venues that people are looking for more details.

Until we get some more information, it's hard to tailor tools and information to support members. We have received details about time frames, and while that is absolutely helpful we also hope that some of those time frames will narrow in scope and will get more precise.

TN: Have there been any unique challenges for this working group?

I think the biggest challenge is that we do not have a roadmap. There is not a clear “here's what you need to do each step of the way,” and we are not in the driver's seat. We're a passenger, on the road in the car, trying to make sure that we make all the correct turns and we get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible.

TN: What has the rollout of messaging from ED concerning FAFSA simplification guidance been like so far?

We've received some positive messages from the department. We have received updates at their conference, we've received the release of some publications, and those things are good news for our march toward this implementation. But a lot of it still feels ambiguous, and it's sort of a trickle.

My fear is that it feels like we're standing at a place where you're at a wall and there's a little bit of water coming through and you know that you're going to have to plug that hole up, but you're not getting enough to be able to address that completely.

TN: Why did you decide to serve on this working group?

This is the biggest fundamental change in our profession in my 27-year career. I was excited about an opportunity to work collaboratively with so many talented colleagues. I believe in simplification, I believe in the work of financial aid administrators, and at the same time, I also understand that there needs to be reasonable administrative capacity. I don't like to use the word “burden,” but there is limited capacity in financial aid offices.

I like building things and improving things, and being part of that kind of success. This has been such an honor, it's been a privilege to serve with this working group, and NASFAA staff as well have just been such great partners in bringing the ideas of the working group to life.


Publication Date: 2/22/2023

Jose E | 2/22/2023 10:56:39 AM

I know it was beyond your ability to influence, but leaving out the parent information for health profession students has created a big challenge for medical schools who have resources that require the review of parent's ability to contribute.

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