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Quicker DOE review of FAFSA applications requested by Sens. Warner, Kaine

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Following significant problems with the rollout of the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), lawmakers want a quick review of problems before fall 2024 applications are due.

U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, both of Virginia, are urging the Department of Education Office of Inspector General (OIG) to issue a quick review and provide a course for corrective action. The move by Warner and Kaine comes as incoming high school seniors across the country prepare to fill out the FAFSA form as part of the college application process that typically begins in the late summer and early fall.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is currently investigating a broader and full-scale review of the 2024-2025 FAFSA rollout. While GAO and the IG are working together on this review, it is on a longer timeline and likely will not be complete when the FAFSA reopens for fall 2024. The faster “management alert” review being requested by the Warner and Kaine would focus on the immediate problems that need to be resolved ahead of relaunching the application.

In highlighting the need for a faster review to address urgent problems ahead of next school year, the senators pointed to the cost that these problems had on students.

“In particular, issues with the form leading to long periods of uncertainty have had a major ripple effect on students and colleges alike,” the senators wrote. “Students experienced delayed access to the application, technical glitches impacting timely submission, and processing errors. As a result of these setbacks, higher education institutions received student financial data months later than expected, causing slowdowns in the process of providing prospective students with complete financial aid packages ahead of college enrollment deadlines. Many colleges and universities pushed their enrollment deadlines, leading to fragmentation in the college decision timeline.”

While significant progress has been made to address the issues, the senators highlighted that lingering issues are still plaguing many who rely on financial aid to make their college decision.

“And, while most problems have been fully resolved or provided temporary fixes, we remain concerned about continuing challenges, including that students from a mixed immigration status family and whose contributors do not have a Social Security Number are still unable to successfully submit the FAFSA form. Such FAFSA hurdles particularly impact individuals who need financial aid the most, including low-income, first-generation, and traditionally underserved students. For many of these students, the biggest consideration in committing to a college is deciding how to finance it.”

In their letter the senators specifically asked that the OIG, in working with GAO, ensure that the broader FAFSA review includes a full assessment of the following:

  • A detailed chronology of the development, implementation, and management of the form;
  • Contributing factors to the form delay, technical malfunctions and backend complications, formula miscalculations, data and processing errors, and other issues;
  • The role of contractors in the launch of the FAFSA form;
  • The Department’s oversight, performance standards, and review of contractors;
  • The Department’s communication and information sharing with impacted communities, including students and higher education institutions;
  • The impact of funding and other competing priorities on implementation;
  • The deadline for implementation, which was pushed from July 1, 2023 to July, 1, 2024;
  • Potential challenges that the Department will need to anticipate ahead of the coming academic year and beyond; and
  • Recommendations for corrective action.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.