Education Under Secretary James Kvaal kicked off the third day of Federal Student Aid’s virtual training conference with a keynote address underscoring the breakneck pace at which the higher education landscape has changed in recent years, saying the flexibility needed to respond to challenges stemming from the pandemic, demographic cliffs, the rise of artificial intelligence, and debates over the value of higher education require that of an Olympic-level gymnast.
The Department of Education (ED) is currently grappling with significant changes in college admissions, FAFSA reform, student loan repayment, and new regulations, to name a few.
Front of mind for the financial aid community, though, is the redesign of the FAFSA — “the most ambitious redesign” since its predecessor was created during the Reagan administration, according to Kvaal.
“Before now filling out the FAFSA was like assembling furniture from Ikea, confusing directions, unexpected twists, a strong urge to grab a hammer,” Kvaal said. “But by reusing the data that the government already has, the new FAFSA eliminates dozens of questions. And saves families about 18 million bottles of Advil a year.”
Kvaal also said the redesign would reduce burdens for financial aid administrators, but acknowledged the change in the short-term could be challenging.
“I know this change isn't easy for anyone,” Kvaal said. “A new formula, new terminology, new computer systems, it's a lot of work. This week, FSA is sharing a lot of information about how we hope to support you through this transition, so let me just say how much I appreciate your partnership.”
Kvaal also said that the department is working with Congress to increase the annual Pell Grant, with the goal to double it by 2029.
On the student loan portfolio Kvaal urged the higher education community to continue to highlight the benefits of the administration’s new income-driven repayment program, the Saving on Valuable Education (SAVE) repayment plan.
While more than 5 million borrowers have enrolled in the plan, according to Kvaal most of the borrowers who are eligible for lower payments or even loan forgiveness have not applied. Kvaal urged financial aid professionals to help inform borrowers about all student loan options available.
“FSA is only one messenger and is facing a budget crunch, so I'm asking for your help,” Kvaal said. “Please consider helping your colleagues, your students, your alumni enroll in the SAVE plan, apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, or at the very least get the loan deferment and forbearance they need.”
In developing new regulations and data to promote affordability and accountability in the higher education space through negotiated rulemaking, Kvaal said the department aimed to deter wrongdoing and protect taxpayers.
“We recognize that many of these rules carry compliance costs for colleges and universities,” Kvaal said. “I want you to know that we weigh these costs carefully and only create new rules when we think there is a strong need.”
Publication Date: 12/1/2023