ED Announces Verification Relief and Additional Flexibilities to Ease FAFSA-Related Burden

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

The Department of Education (ED), in an electronic announcement posted on Tuesday morning, detailed its latest efforts to help institutions of higher education prepare for the 2024-25 FAFSA rollout, namely by reducing verification requirements, suspending routine program reviews, and providing flexibility on renewing participation in the federal student aid programs.

According to the department Tuesday’s announcement seeks to assist colleges and help those on the front lines of implementing the 2024-25 FAFSA prepare to process student financial aid forms as efficiently as possible.

“These steps that we are announcing today are a direct response to input we have received from financial aid administrators and college and university presidents about where they are seeing challenges with implementing better FAFSA,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said.

Per ED’s announcement, the department will be “significantly reducing verification requirements,” but will maintain measures focused on avoiding identity fraud. The department cited implementation of the direct data exchange with the IRS as a key factor for no longer needing to verify income data, and has allowed ED to more “effectively target” verification efforts. In conversations with the department, it is NASFAA’s understanding that the reduction in verification requirements will be realized through a significantly lower selection rate. That rate will even be lower than during the pandemic, according to sources from within the department, and will focus mainly on verifying identity.

ED will also suspend all new program reviews through June of 2024, except in instances where there are “serious issues” stemming from suspected fraud. Institutions with ongoing program reviews will also be able to request extensions for responses to program reviews, reports, or requests for additional documentation.

The third flexibility concerns recertification eligibility. Here ED is waiving the 90-day recertification window for schools whose Program Participation Agreement (PPA) expires in March, June, or September 2024. Per the department these schools will have until their expiration day to submit a recertification application.

In December NASFAA sent a letter to ED requesting temporary relief from burdensome requirements on students and institutions, so financial aid administrators can focus on helping students navigate the financial aid application process in light of the delayed release of the FAFSA and Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs).

While Tuesday’s announcement meets some of those requests, there are still additional areas where the department could provide more relief to schools in order to assist financial aid offices efficiently process FAFSA applications. Those additional areas of relief include; permitting schools to accept electronic copies of verification materials, including electronic signatures; and delaying institutional Gainful Employment (GE) and financial value transparency reporting deadlines, without delaying accountability deadlines.

NASFAA applauded these initial measures but also urged the department to communicate realistic time frames and next steps to students to ensure that aid offices can focus their resources on importing ISIRs and making financial aid offers.

“To make this work, higher education stakeholders require a sustained effort, which includes additional administrative relief and the Department meeting its FAFSA processing timelines going forward," said NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger. "Schools have been told to expect test records by the end of this week, and processed FAFSA information in the first half of March, which will be vital to provide students and families with need-based financial aid information this spring. Students and families cannot afford any additional delays. We are committed to working with the Department in the spirit of collaboration and open dialogue as we tackle these challenges together.”

Tuesday’s announcement also reiterated that test versions of ISIRs will be released “by the end of the week.” Cardona urged every college to start testing their records as soon as the test ISIRs become available.

Tuesday’s announcement comes on the heels of a letter from over 100 congressional Democrats who pressed the department for more clarity on its timelines and next steps for the 2024-25 FAFSA form.

 

Publication Date: 2/13/2024


Kelvin H | 2/13/2024 11:50:55 AM

The reduction in verification requirements will open up a lot of schools to fraud and identity theft issues. During the pandemic when verification was waived, we saw a lot more fraud problems come through our school, through our distant education programs. We had instances where we had students in their 80's getting Pell grants and never went to school. They collected the refund check and disappeared. I would at least like to see the V4 used and then financial aid advisors can determine if information is conflicting and then decide to select for further verification.

Jesse H | 2/13/2024 10:20:51 AM

This section is giving me a little pause, as is the wording on the original announcement: "In conversations with the department, it is NASFAA’s understanding that the reduction in verification requirements will be realized through a significantly lower selection rate. That rate will even be lower than during the pandemic, according to sources from within the department, and will focus mainly on verifying identity."

My expectation on verification relief was that it would likely take the form of "V4-requirements only" as in previous periods where there was a waiver, and the "focus on identity" thing matches that. However, nothing specifically says that in either announcement. Wonder if we'll have any V1s to worry about, even at a highly reduced rate?

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