The Department of Education (ED) on Tuesday announced that institutions and states will begin receiving Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) in the “first half of March,” backtracking its original — and already delayed — commitment that ISIRs would be delivered by the end of January.
ED clarified that it would begin delivering ISIRs in batches, and it will take several weeks for ED to clear the backlog of ISIRs. It is not yet known what process ED will be using to batch the ISIRs, although ED has confirmed that ISIRs will be sent on an applicant basis, not a school basis. That is, all institutions listed on an applicant’s ISIR will receive that applicant’s ISIR at the same time.
Once FAFSA processing begins in March, students will also be able to make corrections to their FAFSAs. ED has confirmed that the school corrections process will be available after the student correction process, but did not provide an estimated date.
ED has acknowledged the need for schools and software providers to receive additional test ISIR records and has committed to providing test records, but has not provided an expected release date. In a press release, ED stated that it is “continuing to test several vendor-built systems” and will provide “regular progress updates” to institutions and stakeholders.
NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger said in a statement that the last-minute announcements from the department are forcing colleges and universities to scramble to determine how to best work within these new timelines.
“On the very day that schools were expecting FAFSA applicant information, they were instead notified by the U.S. Department of Education that they shouldn't expect to receive that data until March, at the earliest,” Draeger said. “These continued delays, communicated at the last minute, threaten to harm the very students and families that federal student aid is intended to help.”
Along with the announcement, ED noted that the tables used to protect a portion of a family’s income and assets from being considered in the Student Aid Index (SAI) have been updated and adjusted for inflation. The tables are available in the final SAI and Pell Grant Eligibility Guide. When ED begins transmitting batches of ISIRs to institutions and state agencies in the first half of March, the SAIs will be based on the updated tables.
The update to these tables will give students approximately an additional $1.8 billion in federal student aid, ED announced. ED also clarified in a stakeholder call with higher education associations that the $1.8 billion is exclusively money for Pell Grant recipients. Several NASFAA members have pointed out that the Asset Protection Allowance (APA) figures have been adjusted down to zero. This is not an error; watch for an explanatory article on how APAs are adjusted soon in Today’s News.
ED noted that when Congress finalizes the fiscal year 2024 budget and determines the 2024-25 maximum federal Pell Grant award amount, ISIRs will be reprocessed to reflect that update, if needed, as is the customary practice. Currently, appropriators are operating under another continuing resolution and are aiming to finalize spending levels for the 2024 fiscal year by early March.
As a part of Tuesday’s announcement, ED also shared it will be updating the Federal Processing System (FPS) to include the updated tables and anticipates “catching up” with the majority of ISIR transmissions in the weeks following the beginning of ISIR delivery.
NASFAA will now begin to make updates to its SAI Modeling Tool to include the inflation-adjusted tables, and will alert members when the updated tool is available. NASFAA will also release instructions for users to update the SAI modeling tool themselves with the updated, inflation-adjusted formulas, for users who prefer to update a version of the model that already includes their student data versus importing student data into the latest version of the model.
“The Better FAFSA makes it as simple and easy as possible for families to get help paying for college, and updating our tables will help even more students get the help they need,” said Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal, who pledged to assist external partners on the 2024-25 FAFSA through webinars, resources, and updates on the Knowledge Center. “Updating our calculations will help students qualify for as much financial aid as possible. Thank you to the financial aid advisers, college counselors, and many others helping us put students first.”
Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, members of Congress had already begun to ramp up pressure on ED and have called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the rollout of the 2024-25 FAFSA, with Republicans accusing ED of “botching” the launch.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, criticized ED for its rollout of the FAFSA, noting that ongoing issues with the FAFSA “forced high school counselors to postpone financial aid information sessions and counselors are now rushing to connect with students and families to help them navigate the new FAFSA process.”
“This rollout has been a disaster,” Cassidy said in a statement. “[ED’s] inability to do their job has real consequences for students and families. These unacceptable delays from the Biden administration creates the real likelihood that many students will forgo college because they cannot choose a school without knowing their eligibility for student aid.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education & Workforce Development, sent a letter to ED on Tuesday evening in response to the ISIR delays. The lawmakers criticized the department’s rollout of the 2024-25, stating “the problems with the new FAFSA are various and have yet to be entirely remedied.”
“Given the current status of FAFSA implementation, this ambitious timeline appears to be very much in doubt,” Foxx and Owens wrote. “For example, there were concerns the Department could meet this timeline when it initially failed to include inflation adjustments for the FAFSA, even though the [FAFSA Simplification] Act mandated such adjustments. It was only recently that the Department finally acknowledged this error and it is still unclear how long addressing it will take. Meanwhile [institutions] and states are left in limbo as they await accurate student information.”
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, also reminded ED that he will continue to conduct oversight on implementation efforts.
For more details on the rollout, be sure to listen to our most recent episode of “Off the Cuff” and stay tuned for more coverage and reaction on this topic.
Publication Date: 1/30/2024