29 Jun Early FAFSA Edification
By Stacey Musulin, Assistant Director Financial Aid Services, CT Community Colleges
CAPFAA’s Annual Business Meeting Committee was pleased to schedule Training Officer Zack Goodwin from the US Department of Education to deliver two presentations on June 1, 2016. The first of these was a review of what has been termed the “Early FAFSA.”
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid for the 2017-2018 school year will be available online to students and families beginning October 1, 2016. When completing the 2017-2018 FAFSA, students will indicate 2015 tax and income information for themselves (and their parents, if considered dependent), just as they may have done for their 2016-2017 FAFSAs. Required household information will be that which is valid for the 2017-2018 academic year, and asset values will be reported as of the date the FAFSA is initially filed.
Previous to the 2017-2018 cycle, the FAFSA would be available for completion on the first of January of the related academic year, and would require income and tax data for the previous calendar year to calculate the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). As part of FAFSA simplification required by the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act amendments, the Department of Education has been attempting to make FAFSA completion easier. Moving the FAFSA start date to October may align it more-closely with admissions application timelines, and gives additional time to families to complete and consider the financial components in the college decision process. Most importantly, using 2015 (AKA “prior prior year”) calendar year data will allow many more applicants to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to complete the income and tax information sections of the 2017-2018 FAFSA. This allows the vast majority of applicants to complete the FAFSA in a single session without needing to log in to make updates after tax filing.
While the 2017-2018 FAFSA may be completed earlier in the application cycle, Mr. Goodwin admitted that many schools would not be able to offer official financial aid packages any earlier than in previous years. The Department of Education cannot release final Pell Grant schedules and Campus-Based aid allocations (e.g., SEOG, FWS) until Congress appropriates funds for those programs. Unfortunately, the time tables for completing budgets for the fiscal year has not changed. Similarly, if post-secondary institutions do not (or cannot) change schedules for finalizing their own budgets, timing for packaging student aid would not change.
Other considerations for 2017-2018 FAFSA completion discussed were:
- Potential increase in the number of professional judgment appeal requests (PJ): There are no changes to administrators’ ability to review and act on student requests for amendments to components of the EFC calculation. Mr. Goodwin reminded us to indicate the PJ flag on all updated ISIRs to limit the Department’s tendency to select students with significant updates for the verification process.
- Timelines for various information systems to update software needed to process aid for the 2017-2018 year: We are hopeful that vendors (Ellucian/Banner, PowerFAIDs) will respond by planning their “new year” releases in August and/or early fall.
- Conflicting 2015 income and tax information on the 2016-17 and 2017-18 FAFSAs: Because 2015 income information will be repeated on the FAFSA for two aid cycles, institutions wonder about the potential for conflicting information requiring resolution. While the Department is not yet ready to release final guidance on this issue, Mr. Goodwin indicated there will be some flag (and corresponding communication code) on ISIRs that will communicate to schools which FAFSAs have conflicting information to such a significant degree that review and resolution is required. There is the possibility that both 2016-17 and 2017-18 application data would need correction. Among other issues, the Department is currently considering the procedure to be followed if changes are required after deadlines for the submission of 2016-2017 FAFSA corrections as specified in the Federal Register dated April 4, 2016.
- Need to revise financial aid packages based on changes to Pell and DL utilization: If schools do package 2017-2018 aid earlier, they may find it necessary to review eligibility for students nearing lifetime Pell Grant, Subsidized DL, and/or aggregate Direct Loan ceilings on multiple occasions to ensure that students do not exceed these limits.
Mr. Goodwin strongly encouraged all schools to seek information on IFAP’s Early FAFSA Information Page as well as utilize the Financial Aid Toolkit website. General feedback on Early FAFSA may be delivered to earlyFAFSAfeedback@ed.gov. Because he is part of ED’s Early FAFSA Workgroup, Mr. Goodwin also welcomed us to contact him with any questions or concerns via direct phone line and email address. This and other contact information may be found on presentation slides #23 & #24. (Be sure to log in as a CAPFAA member to access these if you didn’t receive the handouts at the meeting.)
Though challenges in processing the 2017-2018 FAFSA are certain, the ability for more families to complete the FAFSA earlier using the more-accurate financial information from the IRS Data Retrieval Tool should create a net positive effect: More time for planning how to pay school costs. Institutions of higher learning will likely, over time, also find the earlier and more-precise EFC data a helpful tool when creating packaging schematics as part of enrollment planning strategies.