The top 2 concerns for colleges as they assess pending FAFSA changes

Only about half of administrators have gotten a jumpstart on key updates being made to financial aid.
By: | December 1, 2021
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With changes not coming to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and Federal Methodology until the 2024-25 award year, it is not surprising that only half of all institutions have started prepping for it. Nor is it a shock that administrators expect there to be bumps in dealing with the Department of Education.

However, it is noteworthy that 75% of those leaders surveyed by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) and Oracle say they expect to be challenged by the shift from the Estimated Family Contribution to the Student Aid Index. Nearly two-thirds believe Pell grant factors may present obstacles.

Despite the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act last year, Pell Grant award amount maximums are still being kicked around by Congress as political leaders look to cement the final details of the $1.7 trillion social spending plan.

“Financial aid offices across the country are gearing up for significant federal methodology and FAFSA changes that will require adjustments to longstanding practices and processes,” said Justin Draeger, NASFAA President and CEO. “There is both optimism and trepidation about our collective ability to make these changes in a way that facilitates a smooth transition for schools and students.”

A little more than 430 institutions participated in the study, which highlighted the confidence they had in their own offices (70%) to be able to pivot but showed less faith in software solutions providers (40%) and especially ED (25%) being able to hold up its end on implementation.

Only 52% have started the process of getting ready for the switch—and even fewer among community colleges (32%). Those that are have begun taking initial steps to provide a seamless transition. Around a third are discussing FAFSA updates with staff and some are looking more closely at potential policy changes. Only about 15% of administrators, however, have discussed it with senior leaders. But it’s clear they will need help from all stakeholders.

“Teamwork between the Department of Education, NASFAA, software providers and institutions will be key to ensure that schools and students are set up for success,” said Vivian Wong, group vice president of higher education development at Oracle. “Institutions can’t enact this change alone—they need the right systems and support in place.”

What could hold them back as they get closer to full implementation? Less than 5% of respondents said they were completely confident in ED’s ability to release timely guidance, training opportunities and technical specifications. Between 14% and 18% were not confident at all that ED would deliver on those items.

Solutions providers also will be key to the transition. Although a robust 85% of administrators said they are likely to maintain current relationships, they would like to see them offer help in four areas: earlier availability of new functionality, more detailed documentation, more effective training and improved communication.

Two other areas being watched by administrators are the repeal of limitations on subsidized loan eligibility on direct loans and incarcerated students’ eligibility for Pell grants.