Every October is FAFSA’s time to shine, but this year it looks like we’ll have to wait until December, according to the Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid’s (FSA) long-awaited timeline for the new FAFSA deployment.
In the past, students and their families typically had two months to meet most college priority deadlines. Moving the date of release to December will make it challenging both for students to complete the FAFSA in a timely manner as well as for staff to process the FAFSA efficiently.
The FSA announced they will communicate information to parents and students to help them understand the changes and provide new timelines. In addition, FSA will provide information to financial aid offices and other stakeholders to prepare. So, what’s changing and how can you help your students with the tight timeline?
- One hundred questions cut down to approximately 38.
- EFC is now Student Aid Index (SAI). EFC was confusing to families as its often thought of as the amount a family should be able to contribute. FSA hopes that “SAI” will clarify that this is not money they need to pay but a number used to assess financial need.
- Pell Grant eligibility is now based on adjusted gross income (AGI) and SAI: FSA amendments will use the AGI in addition to the SAI to determine eligibility for Pell Grant award amounts. Students will also be able to estimate their eligibility for the grant before they complete the FAFSA. The maximum award is $7,395 for the 2023-24 award year, and award amounts can change yearly. Additional amendments include a reduction in the award amount for students who are not enrolled full time, meaning students enrolled less-than-half time will not be eligible to receive the grant, and the establishment of a minimum award amount for full-time enrollment, which is $750 for the 2023-24 award year.
- Discounts eliminated for multiple children in college.
- Changes to divorced and separated parents: The new legislation will require the parent who provided the most financial support in the “prior-prior” tax year to complete the FAFSA, instead of the custodial parent. The term “prior-prior” means that the financial aid system requires parents to submit their two-year tax returns instead of their most recent ones. For example, the class of 2023 (seniors) were required to submit their 2021 income tax information. Current juniors or rising seniors will use their 2022 tax return. Thus, the parent who provided the most support in 2022 will be required to complete the FAFSA for the 2024-25 award year.
- No financial consequences for contributions made by others, such as grandparent contributed funds to a college plan are no long considered students’ untaxed income.
- Income protection allowance goes up. The new legislation raises both student and parent income protection, however the formula will no longer factor “number in college” for the parent allowance.
- Communicate early! Let parents and students know the FAFSA will release in December. Communicate timeline for priority and other deadlines. Let parents and students know they can prepare ahead of time by gathering tax info.
- Plan events: At my previous institution, we would hold a “FAFSA Frenzy” event in October (this year may need to be prior to holiday break). Parents and students were invited to our computer lab to mingle with financial aid staff and receive assistance while they filed their FAFSA. We saw over a 30% increase in FAFSA submissions prior to priority deadline when we held these.
- Utilize dynamic content and ad hoc emails to communicate to students on financial aid, future students and current student pages.
- Plan ahead! Financial aid teams have timelines that will need to shift. Use data from last year to approximate the amount of FAFSA’s per day each team member will need to process in order to make the shorter deadlines.
Lastly, if you’d like a sneak peek of the new FAFSA, the FSA released a ppt of changes and screenshots that may be helpful. Access here.
By Cat Hollands, Capture Client Trainer, Capture Higher Ed