Cassidy: 2024-25 FAFSA 'Has Not Gone Well'

By Maria Carrasco, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, criticized the Department of Education (ED) in a letter on Friday for its “botched” rollout of the 2024-25 FAFSA. 

Cassidy voiced his concerns about the impact the rocky FAFSA rollout will have on low-income students, specifically first-generation college students experiencing the financial aid process for the first time, as many have reported glitches, errors, and issues with access to the application.

Specifically, Cassidy criticized ED’s recent student loan forgiveness announcements, writing that the department “prioritized its multiple student loan schemes over performing the tasks mandated by Congress.” On Friday morning, ED announced it was implementing a provision of the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) repayment plan to provide forgiveness earlier for eligible borrowers. 

“The purpose of the FAFSA Simplification Act was to make financial aid more accessible for all students, by simplifying the application process,” Cassidy wrote. “Instead, the current rollout has made navigating the financial aid system far more difficult for students with greater uncertainty.”

Cassidy stated that according to ED, the FAFSA was only available for approximately 30 minutes on December 30, and for about an hour on December 31. The limited availability of the FAFSA was “not what Congress intended” and is “unacceptable,” Cassidy wrote. 

On Monday, January 8, ED announced that it had received over 1 million FAFSA submissions. Cassidy noted that is a small percentage of the expected number of total applicants, with the 2021-22 FAFSA application cycle having over 17.5 million applications submitted. 

“The botched rollout means students will be forced to make financial aid decisions with less time and less information than in the past,” Cassidy wrote. “Where to go to college, and how to finance it, is one of the most important financial decisions a person will make in their lifetime. ED needs to be making that decision easier, not harder.”

Cassidy’s letter comes as students, families, and financial aid offices across the country have reported issues with the rollout of the 2024-25 FAFSA. NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger said in a statement that the initial FAFSA rollout was challenging for students, families, and financial aid administrators, and many are understandably frustrated. 

Cassidy asked ED several questions in the letter and demanded the department answer the questions within five business days of receiving the letter. One of those questions is if any of ED’s timelines for implementing the FAFSA have changed – such as whether institutions will receive Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) by the end of January. He also asked if timelines have changed, how ED plans to make up for the delay. 

NASFAA and its members have also voiced concerns about the timeline of when institutions will receive ISIRs. 

“Frustration will likely continue because even if students fill out the FAFSA today, we still don’t have an exact date of when schools will receive FAFSA applicant data, so financial aid administrators can begin building and communicating financial aid packages,” Draeger said in a statement.

Cassidy also asked about communication plans before and after December 30, 2023 to financial aid administrators and students, and how ED is communicating with students and families about their concerns over the new FAFSA. 

“Unfortunately for students, this rollout has not gone well, and my hope is that you will be more forthcoming about how you plan to remedy the situation than you have been about the return to repayment,” Cassidy wrote. “I look forward to your reply. Millions of students and families are depending on it.” 

 

Publication Date: 1/16/2024


Robert M | 1/17/2024 10:48:57 AM

I get what the senator is saying, perhaps he and others should have said something (and insisted something be done) earlier. I get the feeling that much like any job - ED doesn't want to be the bearer of bad news and someone, somewhere stated, "We got this!" - for fear of repercussions.

On the congressional side (and I guess the ED side as well) how well) do/did they communicate with each other? And lastly, were extra resources requested and granted as necessary - with appropriate lead time being in place for both the ask and deployment if applicable.

Ultimately, we gotta stop playing "hot potato" in higher ed - and the grownups in the rooms must act as such, because we the kids (6,600 institutions) and our kids (students) are in the middle of a boondoggle.

Best/Peace

Aesha E | 1/17/2024 9:49:22 AM

Perhaps instead of faux outrage and concern, this member of Congress might want to ensure he understands the implications of reducing the budget of an office being asked to make such a major change. I expect that they don't have enough staff to work on this project in addition to standard maintenance and other tech-related things like the FSA Partners site, etc. And I'm sure he doesn't truly believe that the same staff member(s) working on loan/policy implementation are the same ones building code for a new FAFSA.

Lee Ann T | 1/16/2024 10:49:10 AM

Compressed timeline? 4 years isn't long enough? This has been underway since 2020 and the FAFSA Simplification Act.

David S | 1/16/2024 10:49:07 AM

Good point Jaime; in addition to that, while many have pointed out the problems with the rollout, few of us are in any position to do anything about it. Senator Cassidy, on the other hand, could always advocate and vote for a budget that would satisfactorily fund the Department of Education so that they would be assured of resources sufficient to complete these types of herculean tasks. I look forward to his assistance in that regard.

Jaime M | 1/16/2024 9:49:48 AM

Well, maybe the rollout would have gone better if Congress hadn't give ED such a compressed timeline that was impossible to meet. More time and resources would have led to a better experience for everyone involved.

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