Department of Education Details ISIR Processing Approach in New Announcement

By Allie Arcese, Director of Communications

The Department of Education (ED) on Monday doubled down on its commitment to begin transmitting FAFSA applicant information to colleges and universities in the first half of March, and provided more details on what schools, state higher education agencies, and scholarship organizations can expect when that data is delivered. 

In an electronic announcement, ED officials said it will begin sending batches of Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) in the first half of the month and that the agency anticipates clearing the majority of the ISIR backlog "in the weeks following the beginning of ISIR delivery." ED's announcement did not provide an exact date for when the transmission of data will begin. 

ED added that students and contributors without a Social Security number will be able to submit their FAFSA "in the first half of March," but did not provide further details on how they may do so. 

Although the FAFSA has been open for applicants to submit since late December, ED's Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has been unable to transfer applicant information to schools, state higher education agencies, and scholarship organizations, notably hampering financial aid offices' ability to process, package, and communicate financial aid offers to students. The delay not only creates uncertainty and a time crunch for aid offices, but also for students, who are traditionally expected to commit to a college by May 1. NASFAA and several other higher education organizations have called on institutions to provide flexibility to students and families as they consider their offers of admission and financial aid, as many did during the pandemic. 

In the meantime, FSA last month sent a handful of test ISIRs for financial aid offices to begin testing their systems. And on Friday, FSA released a test data file of system-generated test ISIRs and will continue to update test ISIRs in ED's GitHub repository.

In Monday's announcement, ED said that ISIRs will be sent to the schools and state of residence students provided on their FAFSA, and that online forms will be prioritized for processing, followed by paper forms. While the initial transmissions will come in smaller batches, ED plans to move up to processing larger batches "in the days and weeks following," according to the announcement. 

ED also noted that it will initiate a planned pause of StudentAid.gov to prepare its systems for the ISIR transmission, and that it will begin with sending small batches of one to two ISIRs to "a few dozen schools identified on the first submitted applications" to test the process and identify technical issues before expanding delivery to a wider swath of institutions. Schools identified to receive small batches of ISIRs will be contacted directly by ED.

Once ED reaches its peak for delivering ISIRs, the majority of institutions will receive "no more than 1,500" ISIRs each day, while the top 5% of institutions may receive up to 25,000 per day. At that point, ED said it will take another two weeks to process the applications that have already been submitted, which it added "is consistent with the timeline we announced on January 30." 

New applications — those that have been submitted after ED's ISIR processing has begun — will be added to the end of the queue. Once ED has completed its "ramp-up" process, the department expects turnaround time to return to normal ranges of about three to five days after an online form is submitted. 

Students can expect to receive their FAFSA Submission Summary after their form has been processed, as well as an email from ED "in the coming weeks" that their form has been processed and sent to the schools identified on their FAFSA. Students will be able to make corrections to their FAFSA later in March. 

FSA will continue to update its 2024-25 FAFSA Updates page as new information becomes available. 

Keep an eye out for a new episode of "Off the Cuff" this Friday, which will dig into this latest announcement from ED.

 

Publication Date: 3/4/2024


Christopher H | 3/11/2024 2:28:16 PM

hi everyone -- if we could get an update (it's Monday, 3/11/24) on what NASFAA is hearing on timing, that would be good. Several aid offices, including this one, are being asked to weigh in on whether colleges should be provided some level of expectation for offers. Thanks!

Deidre T | 3/6/2024 4:35:12 PM

I think the people that are doing all these changes, it's time for them to sit in our office chairs till it is completed. After 28 years in the Financial Aid office, I just might be done!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anthony S | 3/5/2024 6:21:16 PM

Virginia B , I had the same issue. If you zoom in to about %125 it helps.

James C | 3/5/2024 1:19:02 PM

Families will still be making college decisions in June or choose a gap year.

Jeff A | 3/5/2024 9:59:19 AM

This seems like a reasonable 'best-case' interpretation of the timing from this EA:
March 19 - Shut down studentaid.gov all day and 'prepare systems'.
March 19- 25 Test Systems
March 26 - Deliver 1-2 ISIRs to a dozen test schools.
March 26 - 30 Get feedback and identify issues.
April 1-7 resolve Issues and end the test phase.
April 8-12 Send only a few ISIRs to some, perhaps most institutions to see how it goes.
April 15-April 30 Continue to ramp delivery, then send all ISIRs from initial FAFSAs received,, and allow changes to be made. This timing would NOT be consistent with what they said on Jan 30th despite that claim if this timeline ends up being correct.
May 1-15 Start processing new FAFSAs, but not delivering ISIRS until mid May since they go to 'the end of the queue'.
By end of May reprocess ISIRs to reflect any changes to the Pell amounts from the Appropriations process.

And if you have year-round students like i do that you have no ability to do anything but estimate their 2nd PP Pell, then you will be very heavily burdened to update/repackage students with actual eligiblity amounts.

Yeah, this announcement sucks.

Laura L | 3/5/2024 9:14:10 AM

I hope the department selects institutions that use multiple software systems instead of just selecting those that use the same software.

Virginia B | 3/5/2024 8:31:00 AM

Not sure where else to make this comment, but this font is very hard to read. It's too "light" against a white background. Thanks

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