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today’s news for Friday, May 21, 2021

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NEWS FROM NASFAA

More than $1 million in Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) grants were awarded to and drawn down by closed schools, according to a new report by the Department of Education’s (ED) internal watchdog. The report from ED’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found 17 institutions of higher education that closed on or before Dec. 31, 2020 applied for and were awarded a total of nearly $5 million in HEERF grants. Of those 17 schools, 14 drew down their HEERF funds and eight of those 14 made drawdowns after their closure date, totaling about $1.2 million in grants. 

The Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the agency did not clear a standard as outlined by the Payment Integrity Information Act (PIAA ) to reduce improper payments for fiscal year 2020. The recent audit found that ED did not clear the compliance threshold due to a failure to meet two of the six compliance metrics outlined by PIAA, specifically citing a failure to demonstrate improvement in reducing improper payments in the Direct Loan program, along with a reporting of improper payment rates exceeding 10% for the Temporary Emergency Impact Aid for Displaced Students (Emergency Impact Aid) and Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations (Restart) programs.

Federal Student Aid (FSA) in a notice posted this week announced updates to features designed to improve the information and self-service tools available to borrowers on its primary website. Among the updates is “Aidan,” a virtual assistant that is now available to all users on the StudentAid.gov website, not just those who are logged in to their account. The relatively new myStudentAid mobile app will now give users the ability to complete a Master Promissory Note and the Annual Student Loan Acknowledgement (ASLA) directly in the app, and the virtual assistant is also now available on the app. The ASLA has also been overhauled so it is now broken up into shorter and easier-to-digest modules as opposed to the previous single page. FSA added that additional updates and improvements will continue to be announced throughout the year. 

NASFAA UPDATES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS

Join ASR Analytics and College of the Canyons for a live webinar on Thursday, June 17 at 2:00 p.m. ET discussing how their Student Centered Funding Dashboards (SCFD) can help your office focus funds to increase diversity and equity, and identify students needing additional financial resources. This 60-minute webinar is free to NASFAA members, but you must register in advance.

The Student Aid Reference Desk — Ref Desk, for short — launched to the public in March 2021. Since its launch, we have welcomed several additional organizations as partners and we are exploring how to further improve the tool for maximum benefit to site visitors. Mid-to-late each month, new release notes will be published that provide a quick glimpse at what people are clicking most, hot topics related to Congressional or U.S. Department of Education happenings, lists of new resources and partners, and more. Check out this inaugural edition of our release notes for the happenings of the last two months.

Thanks to everyone who took a trip through the Student Aid Reference Desk scavenger hunt last week! We are pleased to announce our five randomly selected winners are: Erin Clouser of Reading Area Community College; Stanley Eddy of Southern Methodist University; Katrina Hitzeman of Oregon College of Oriental Medicine; Dawn Koenen of Waldorf University; and Christina Kostick of Arkansas State University. Complete this form with your scavenger hunt answers to be entered to win next week's prize.

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