We’ve been discussing the changes coming for the 2024 – 2025 award year — from the FAFSA questions to needs analysis — for several months now. However, the most immediate, albeit temporary, change is that the FAFSA won’t be available to students until sometime in December 2023. This will likely cause some complications on college campuses and with state or other scholarship agencies that award financial aid based on the federal need analysis. If you haven’t thought through how the delay will impact your campus operations, now is the time to do it.
The first questions to answer are related to your admissions operations. Do they know about this change, and does it impact students applying to your institution? Many students will rely on financial aid to enroll and may delay applying for admission until they know whether they qualify for federal grants and loans. The result may be fewer applicants for early decision and receiving a larger number of applications closer to the regular deadline creating a time crunch for making admission decisions. Students may opt out of applying to colleges where they need financial aid, which will result in a higher number of applicants at public institutions, particularly community colleges.
The next question to answer is: do you have a plan for making sure your technical platforms are ready to process as soon as the first FAFSA results are transmitted? For example, has your institution enrolled for the new FTI SAIG mailbox, signed the new SAIG agreement, and installed the updated software? If you haven’t, when do you plan to do so and who is tasked with initiating the steps? Has your Financial Aid Management Systems updated the needs analysis function to calculate the new Student Aid Index (SAI) and, if so, have you tested to make sure it is calculating properly under any condition? Entering test cases and comparing the system result with a hand calculation is a good way to do this. To be most effective, your test cases should include every type of ‘exception processing’ you could possibly come across in the real world.
Do you have a plan for communicating the delayed availability and any subsequent changes to your institutional and/or state stakeholders? If your enrolled students typically start the renewal process on your website, appropriate messaging there will likely be sufficient. However, if they are more likely to go directly to FAFSA.gov, it will be beneficial to notify them in advance by some other means, such as email or even by postal mail. It is not only important to communicate when the FAFSA will be available for 2024-2025, but also any changes in deadlines that will result. You should also communicate what information they will need to have handy to successfully complete the new form.
And finally, is your staff fully trained to manage and communicate all the changes? From those responsible for packing students to those at the front desk and answering the phones, all financial aid staff members need to be in the know. If any are not, we recommend using the resources provided by Federal Student Aid (FSA) to get them ready now. Speaking of staff, if the delay means you now have less time to get through all those financial aid applications with the same staff or even fewer if there are openings on your team, you’ll need a plan to avoid mass burnout. Can you extend your deadlines to provide the same window of time you typically have for application review? Will you be able to fill open roles or add to your existing team? These answers will be good to have ahead of time even if both are ‘no,’ so you can plan and inform your team members of what to expect.
Luckily, beginning with the 2025-26 award year, the FAFSA
® should be available in October 2024 and life can go back to normal. If you are at all concerned about your preparation for the inaugural year of ‘simplification,’ the Higher Education Assistance Group can help your institution — from training and compliance advice to interim staffing — we’re uniquely positioned to help colleges through this transition. Visit our website or contact us at email@example.com for more information about our services.