‘An Unmitigated Disaster’ - Senators Press Cardona 2024-25 FAFSA Rollout During Appropriations Hearing

By Maria Carrasco, NASFAA Staff Reporter

As Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Tuesday defended the Biden administration’s 2025 fiscal year budget request during a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing, he also faced many questions on the rocky rollout of the 2024-25 FAFSA. 

Cardona testified before the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday, with his opening remarks touching on how the Biden administration's budget request invests in the country’s education system. Earlier in April, Cardona also defended the Biden administration’s budget request in front of the House appropriations subcommittee. 

“This budget is about making responsible choices together to invest in a foundation of American opportunity and raise the bar for our nation's future,” Cardona said. “It's about giving more young people access to the American Dream by building more pathways to rewarding careers and opening doors to higher education for our students by improving college affordability, retention, and completion, including through free community college and increased student support.”

Much of the hearing was devoted to questioning Cardona on this year’s FAFSA rollout, which has been plagued by issues, glitches, and technical errors. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), chair of the subcommittee, along with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, both noted in their opening remarks the challenges the rollout has had on students, families, and institutions. 

“It is not an understatement to say this has been an unmitigated disaster caused by an inexcusable failure of leadership,” Capito said. “Implementation of this bipartisan congressional priority should have been a top priority for the Biden administration. … But instead of prioritizing this important work, the political leadership at the Department of Education chose to spend time, resources, and personnel to advance the administration's priorities around canceling student debt.”

Baldwin noted that the number of high school seniors who have fully completed their FAFSA is down nearly 30% from last year, and even lower among students in low-income high schools. She asked Cardona to describe how the Department of Education (ED) is working to increase completions and help students complete the form.

Cardona responded that the department is holding FAFSA clinics, hosting webinars, providing support to students and parents, and providing daily communications to colleges — including calls with college presidents and financial aid directors. 

“We're doing everything, every day, to make it right,” Cardona said.

Cardona also said it is ED’s expectation that it will launch the 2025-26 FAFSA on October 1, though many stakeholders have expressed doubt that next year’s form will go live on time. 

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said multiple times throughout her opening remarks that the rollout of the 2024-25 FAFSA is “inexcusable.” During questioning, she asked Cardona what happened with the FAFSA and why there were delays. Cardona said “there’s no excuse,” but noted that implementing the FAFSA Simplification Act required a complete overhaul of the system. 

“I recognize the strain this has put on colleges and financial aid offices,” Cardona said. “They've bent over backwards to really meet students' needs, and we are appreciative of that. And we're listening to them as we're making decisions moving forward.”


Publication Date: 5/1/2024

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