New FAFSA will debut in December, Education Department says

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Dive Brief:

  • A new, simplified version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, will debut sometime in December, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed Tuesday.
  • Normally, the financial aid form goes live in October every year, but the Education Department is in the process of streamlining the application after Congress approved changes to it in 2020. The redesigned FAFSA will apply to students seeking aid for the 2024-25 academic year.
  • The Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid, FSA, also in December will publish a “testing and demonstration” website for counselors and financial aid administrators to help staff, students and families navigate the updated form.

Dive Insight:

Congress authorized FAFSA changes in legislation at the tail end of 2020. College access advocates have long pushed to simplify the form, which is notoriously difficult for students and families to parse and complete.

Initially, the reworked FAFSA was due to go live for the 2023-24 academic year. But in 2021, the Education Department, citing problems with its antiquated technology, delayed implementation until the 2024-25 cycle.

Several higher education organizations, including the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, or NASFAA, had pressed the Education Department to define exactly when it would release the new FAFSA. They said states, colleges and access groups would need time to “make significant adjustments to their systems and processes based on the FAFSA release date.”

Now, the organizations have their answer.

The Education Department said Tuesday that because of “the unprecedented complexity of creating the new form, including a new streamlined application flow for students and parents; and a process for securely retrieving tax data directly from the Internal Revenue Service, FSA’s top priority is ensuring a successful launch of the 2024–25 FAFSA season.”

The department said it intends to return to a Oct. 1 release date beginning with the 2025-26 award season.

This year’s delay until December will likely not affect the timeline for most colleges’ decisions and the matriculation process.

Sometime in spring 2023, the Education Department will also publish tools to help officials understand differences between the Expected Family Contribution, EFC — historically the metric for determining how much students and families pay for college after aid — and the upcoming Student Aid Index, which will function similarly to the EFC.

Beginning summer 2023, the student aid office will offer webinars for administrators so they can learn about the shifts in the application and financial aid eligibility.

NASFAA President Justin Draeger in a statement praised the Education Department for committing to a date by which it will release the FAFSA. 

He said the higher education world is preparing for “once-in-a-lifetime changes to how students apply for and receive financial aid.”

“While these myriad improvements may go unnoticed by those who don’t work directly with students, there are a number of behind the scenes updates to systems and processes that are absolutely critical to a smooth transition,” Draeger said. “We know Federal Student Aid understands the importance of this process and we are pleased they are providing the resources and training necessary for the student aid and college access professionals to fully implement these changes.”

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