Every issue with the 2024-25 FAFSA rollout: Updates

BestColleges outlines the problems with the rollout of the 2024-2025 FAFSA and updates on how they are getting solved.


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The rollout of the so-called "Simplified FAFSA" has been anything but "simple."

Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act in late 2020, giving the Department of Education (ED) a clear mandate to truncate the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form for current and prospective college students.

The FAFSA is the application that determines eligibility for federal financial aid, such as grants and student loans, thus allowing millions of students to afford college each year.

In an alternate reality, the Simplified FAFSA launched this year as a significant improvement over the previous form, cutting down the number of questions from over 100 to closer to 20.

That is not what happened, as reported by BestColleges.

Instead, the rollout of the 2024-25 FAFSA form has been plagued by issues. It's a clear black mark on President Joe Biden's higher education record and runs the risk of leading to an enrollment decline more severe than the dropoff seen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here's how we got here, in chronological order:

June 2021 — Biden Administration Requests More Time

The FAFSA Simplification Act called on ED to enact changes to the 2023-24 FAFSA. But the Biden administration quickly asked to delay implementation to the 2024-25 academic year.

"To deliver on these new opportunities, [Federal Student Aid] first needs to update the technology system that the FAFSA form is built on," Richard Cordray, chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid (FSA), said at the time. "Believe it or not, the current system is 45 years old, and though we have made it work all these years, it's just too limited to support these new changes."

Congress agreed to allow ED to delay implementation of the Simplified FAFSA by a year.

March 2023 — ED Announces December Rollout

Historically, the FAFSA becomes available to students on Oct. 1 each year.

In March 2023, however, ED revealed that it would not make the October deadline for the 2024-25 FAFSA. Instead, the department promised that the form would be available sometime in December, which promised to delay the timeframe for colleges and universities to be able to send financial aid offers to students.

Jill Desjean, senior policy analyst at NASFAA, told BestColleges at the time that while not ideal, this two-month delay shouldn't have a massive impact on institutions. Still, financial aid administrators were not confident in Federal Student Aid's ability to provide timely info before the FAFSA's launch.

ED later revealed that it intended to launch the Simplified FAFSA on Dec. 31, nearly three months behind schedule.

Dec. 30, 2023 — Simplified FAFSA Soft Launches

ED kept its promise of launching the 2024-25 FAFSA by the end of 2023, although just barely.

The department called its Dec. 30 occasion a soft launch of the form. The FAFSA was only available to students for brief windows of time to start, and ED later allowed students to fill out the form between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. most days.

This period is when technical errors began to surface.

Many students and families quickly reported issues accessing the form and saw this message instead:

"The FAFSA form is available periodically while we monitor site performance and update the form to provide you with a better experience."

Others ran into glitches when filling out the form or adding others as contributors.

Jan. 8, 2024 — FAFSA Officially Launches

After a one-week soft launch period, the Simplified FAFSA officially became available to all students on Jan. 8.

Students could finally access the form 24/7 at this point. However, some technical glitches that affected the soft launch continued, leaving many students unable to complete the form.

Among the most notable groups impacted were students with at least one parent without a Social Security number. This had an outsized impact on students with undocumented or noncitizen parents, creating an equity issue in the eyes of many student advocacy groups.

ED didn't solve this issue until mid-March.

January 2024 — FAFSA Formula Needs Reworking

Not long after the official launch, ED discovered a significant issue with the 2024-25 FAFSA: The formula was wrong.

The FAFSA Simplification Act called for ED to consider inflation when calculating a student's financial aid need. It remained unclear for a few weeks whether ED would make the fix at all or simply choose to roll with the current formula and make the fix for the next FAFSA cycle.

ED did ultimately decide to correct its mistake for the current cycle.

Doing so caused another delay in the processing of FAFSA applications. Financial aid administrators waiting for over three months for student data were told they'd need to wait until mid-March to receive data. That meant students wouldn't get financial aid offers until April at the earliest.

January 2024 — Lawmakers Launch Investigation Into Botched Rollout

Two high-ranking Republican lawmakers requested an investigation into ED's launch of the 2024-25 FAFSA.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, each their party's highest-ranking authority on education policy in each chamber, sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). They called on GAO to investigate the litany of issues tied to the launch of the Simplified FAFSA and report on what's being done to address concerns.

Lawmakers later held a hearing on April 10 titled "FAFSA Fail: Examining the Impacts on Students, Families, and Schools."

March 2024 — Incorrect Data Sent to Colleges, Universities

ED announced in late March that a miscalculation in its FAFSA formula caused the department to send incorrect financial need data to institutions.

The error impacted approximately 200,000 of the 1.3 million FAFSA forms submitted up to that point. ED added that it would need to reprocess all of the incorrect forms, thus leading to more processing delays.

"At this stage in the game and after so many delays, every error adds up and will be felt acutely by every student who is counting on need-based financial aid to make their postsecondary dreams a reality," National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) CEO Justin Draeger said at the time.

April 2024 — Tax Data Error Impacts Nearly 20% of FAFSA Submissions

ED reported to financial aid administrators that roughly 17% of FAFSAs submitted before March 30 had errors the department must correct.

Approximately 1.1 million applications contained at least one of the following errors:

  1. Inconsistencies in education tax credit data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  2. Amended and updated tax returns from the IRS
  3. Inconsistent data from tax returns vs. manually submitted income data due to an error in written FAFSA instructions

ED initially said it would only need to reprocess applications if doing so would mean more financial aid for the affected student. It backtracked on that idea and said it would reprocess all applications with errors.

Financial aid administrators said this would cause delays in sending financial aid awards to students.

April 2024 — Federal Student Aid Executive Steps Down

Federal Student Aid (FSA) Chief Operating Officer (COO) Richard Cordray on April 26 announced that he intends to step down from his role at the end of June.

Cordray, who has been an integral part of President Biden's push to wipe student loan debt, joined the administration in 2021. He has also been at the center of questions regarding the rollout of the 2024-25 FAFSA.

Prior to his role at FSA, Cordray was the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He was also the Democratic nominee for Ohio's governorship in 2018.

ED Secretary Miguel Cardona celebrated Cordray's time as COO in a statement. Cardona said Cordray accomplished more transformational changes to the student aid system than any of his predecessors.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican representing North Carolina and chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, celebrated Cordray's departure.

"Cordray will be remembered for his ineffective leadership, blatant partisanship, and his failures regarding FAFSA rollout and return to repayment," she said in a statement. "Mr. Cordray, don't let the door hit you on the way out."

May 2024 — Department to Modernize Office of Federal Student Aid

ED in late May outlined a plan to improve the operations of the Federal Student Aid (FSA) office, which oversees the rollout of the FAFSA.

ED Secretary Miguel Cardona outlined eight changes coming to FSA in a letter to staff:

  • Searching for a new chief operating officer (COO)
  • Conducting a review of FSA operations to continue bringing the federal financial aid system into the 21st century
  • Hiring a consulting firm to update FSA's structure and workflow
  • Reviewing contracts to ensure vendors are held accountable for meeting key deadlines and achieving desired outcomes
  • Restructuring senior leadership reporting protocols
  • Creating a new IT innovation team
  • Seeking input from the Office of the Inspector General
  • Continuing outreach and listening sessions with parents, students, colleges, and community organizations

June 2024 — Lawmakers Allege ED Obstructing Investigation

Republican lawmakers in early June alleged that ED was illegally obstructing an investigation into the department.

Lawmakers called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the botched launch of the 2024-25 FAFSA in January. Five months later, those same lawmakers shared that ED had failed repeatedly to provide documents that GAO had requested for the investigation.

GAO told lawmakers that this has hampered its ability to issue any findings.

"GAO is investigating the FAFSA rollout at our request, and by stonewalling, [ED] is interfering with our ability to carry out our constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities," lawmakers wrote in a letter to the department. "[ED's] ongoing failure to comply with GAO's requests is unacceptable. Accordingly, please produce all records that GAO has requested in connection with its investigation no later than June 7, 2024."

This story was produced by BestColleges and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.

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