Washington Watch: New details on FAFSA rollout

Before Community College Daily went on holiday break, the U.S. Education Department (ED) on December 15 released additional details on the rollout of the new 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The announcement said that the period before and immediately following December 31 will be a “soft launch.”

As ED previously announced, the new FAFSA would be live by December 31, but colleges would not receive processed Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) – the information used to assemble aid packages – from the department until the end of January. For students who fill out the FAFSA as soon as it goes live, this will mean at least a month-long delay before they receive aid offers from colleges.

The new ED announcement clarifies this timeline and sets expectations for students and families. Community college students typically complete the FAFSA closer to the start of their program than students attending other types of institutions, but, nevertheless, colleges may want to communicate the details in the new information to current and prospective students.

Informing students and families

Community college officials still attach paramount importance to encourage students to complete the FAFSA and to remove any barriers that students encounter during the process. Many community college students with potential Title IV eligibility do not apply for federal student aid, in part, because of the complexity and burden associated with filing the form.

ED has outlined some potential challenges to FAFSA filing during the soft launch period. First, there will be periods where the site will be offline for maintenance and to address any issues with the FAFSA consumer experience. During these pauses, individuals working on the form can complete their session, but other users won’t be able to start a new form or resume work; They will be directed to return to the form later.

Second, to control site volume, ED will use a “waiting room” feature at intervals when the site is at capacity. If a student tries to start or complete a FAFSA form while the site is offline or is directed to a waiting room, it introduces additional drop-out points where students may leave and not return to complete the form. For this reason, ED is encouraging colleges, counselors and college access groups to:

  • Communicate to students that there is no need to rush to fill out the FAFSA in January.
  • Share information about the soft launch period with students and families.
  • Plan any FAFSA completion events for later in January and February.

A better process

While the soft launch and associated delays are certainly frustrating for campuses, there is light at the end of the implementation period tunnel. The new FAFSA streamlines the application experience for students and families and eliminates many confusing and often irrelevant questions. In addition, through direct data-matching with the Internal Revenue Service, the new process will decrease and perhaps even eliminate the need for FAFSA verification – a barrier that disproportionately impacts community college students.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) hopes that the new form will result in more community college students successfully completing the FAFSA, receiving the federal aid they are entitled to, and enrolling in and completing their programs. Coupled with millions of students receiving increased Pell Grant awards from the new aid calculation, the new FAFSA will bolster federal support for millions of community college students once students, colleges and ED get past the growing pains.

AACC will continue to update its member colleges on these critical issues. 

About the Author

Kathryn Gimborys
Kathryn Gimborys is a government relations manager at the American Association of Community Colleges.
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