This year began much like 2022 ended with the fate of thousands of student loan borrowers in the hands of the courts. In January we didn’t know whether the Biden administration’s universal loan forgiveness program would fly (and it didn’t) or when the first post-COVID pause payments would be due (October 1). It became a year of program improvement and righting past wrongs with initiatives like the Fresh Start program to assist borrowers who defaulted prior to the repayment pause. There were also fixes to the loan forgiveness programs and resulting account adjustments or discharged balances for qualified borrowers. A new, more borrower friendly income-based repayment program was rolled out to replace REPAYE; open to qualified borrowers regardless of what types of loans they are repaying or when they were borrowed.
Also in January, the Biden administration announced that the COVID-19 National Emergency would expire on May 11, 2023, along with the many waivers and exceptions allotted to the financial aid programs during this time.
We learned about changes that would impact our relationships with and responsibilities for third-party servicers in two Dear Colleague letters (DCL) issued in February. Implementation was pushed from May 2023 to September 2023 after public outcry. After more public outcry, a May DCL indicated that a final DCL on the topic would be issued with the effective date following six months later. As of this writing, the final DCL has not yet been issued.
March brought the reintroduction of Federal Student Aid’s ‘Secret Shopper’ program, which is intended to identify institutions providing misinformation during the enrollment process that results in students having unrealistic outlooks on career prospects and/or borrowing beyond their ability to repay.
As spring turned to summer, we turned our attention to FAFSA® Simplification and its many impacts on the financial aid office for both the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 academic years. From new lingo to a new need analysis calculation, the many changes have been summarized in our blog and Federal Student Aid is offering an extensive training program. While we know a lot about the changes we’ll need to make on campus, we’re still waiting to learn the December date that the 2024-2025 FAFSA® will be open for students to apply for financial aid.
At this time of year when awarding is normally in full swing, we’re perhaps just starting to test our financial aid management system to ensure its calculating the new SAI properly, training our staff members on the change soon to come, and corresponding with students about the impacts of the FAFSA® delay. Luckily, Federal Student Aid assures us that the schedule will return to normal for the 2025-2026 award year.
This year presented many challenges to the financial aid community. That so many of you are still helping students to finance their education is a testament to your dedication. So, stand up and pat your co-workers on the back and take a bow yourself. The Higher Education Assistance Group is proud to be part of this community. As always, if you need our help, we’re just an email away! Enjoy the holiday season and best of luck in the new year.