The Education Department said Tuesday it will launch the redesign of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in December, missing the annual Oct. 1 release of the form that millions of students rely on to determine their eligibility for grants and federal loans to pay for college.
The department’s Federal Student Aid Office has been working to carry out a bipartisan law simplifying and easing requirements for the FAFSA, but it said the unprecedented complexity of the new form demanded more time and effort than anticipated.
“FSA has been working — and will continue to work — to launch a 2024-2025 FAFSA form as early as possible and will provide updates if and when there are any timing developments,” the department wrote Tuesday citing a “launch of the FAFSA form in December.”
Filling out the FAFSA is critical for students seeking federal and state aid, as many states use the form to provide education grants. Advocates have cautioned that some state grant programs have priority deadlines as early as January, so the later the FAFSA opens, the less time students will have to apply on time. Plus, the later colleges get students’ financial aid information, the less time there is to finalize award notices.
Still, NASFAA President Justin Draeger said he was pleased that the department is providing a road map for implementing the new FAFSA.
On Tuesday, the department published a guide, dubbed the Better FAFSA Better Future Roadmap, offering resources, guidance and training materials for students, parents, schools, counselors and financial aid officers. The agency will host Q&A sessions with financial aid administrators and field FAFSA-related questions through a single portal.
Later this spring, the department will release Pell Grant tables to help students prepare for changes to the calculation of the formula for the need-based federal grant. It will also provide a tool in the summer for students to estimate their financial aid eligibility.
“While this is later than usual, knowing when the FAFSA will be released will help institutions, states and college-access organizations prepare and plan appropriately,” Draeger said. “Along with the department, our top priority is to have the FAFSA released securely, stably and accurately.”
In 2020, a bipartisan group of lawmakers passed a bill to reduce the number of questions on the aid application from 108 to 36 and limit the requirements for students experiencing homelessness and those formerly in foster care. They also decided to shield more of the money that working students earn from the formula used to determine aid.
Lawmakers said the revisions could enable an additional 1.7 million students to qualify for the maximum award each year and make an additional 555,000 newly eligible for aid.
At the same time, the department is also implementing another law that Congress passed in 2019, dubbed the Future Act, that would make it easier for the agency and the Internal Revenue Service to share taxpayer data so students can speed through the aid application and reduce the need for verification of income.
Initially, the Education Department was supposed to wrap up changes to the FAFSA in time for the 2023-2024 application cycle, but the agency said in June 2021 that it needed to push the rollout back by a year. It moved toward a phased implementation of the changes and said some overhauls would arrive earlier than scheduled.