FSA Conference Report: Second Report

Keynote: Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, FAFSA Simplification Federal Update and the Clery Act

[Summarized by NCAG Blog Editor, Melissa Brock; brockm1@central.edu]
You work in extraordinary times. You're on the front lines, helping students profoundly affected by the pandemic while navigating its challenges yourselves. 

With heart and creativity, you've adapted to the needs of your campus communities. You've ensured that students enrolled at your institutions have been supported through federal student aid programs as well as through emergency grant aid. 

"The Biden-Harris administration understands your crucial role in helping America's students reach and achieve their college dreams," Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, said. "We're proud to be your partners in working to build a more equitable and higher-performing postsecondary education system. President Biden is committed to supporting institutions of higher education and we're doubling down on our commitment," he added.

Here are three significant challenges the president and Cardona are prioritizing: 
  1. Ensuring an equitable recovery for students and colleges. 
  2. Pushing for historic investments that will make college more affordable.
  3. Helping colleges fully commit to equity. 

More must be done to recover from the damage caused by COVID-19. Students are struggling with mental health challenges, housing and food insecurity and academic gaps. The federal government has provided billions in American Rescue Plan funds to help students and their schools through this difficult time. 

The administration is investing in community colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, tribally controlled colleges and universities, other minority-serving institutions like Hispanic-serving institutions and other inclusive institutions that provide equitable opportunities for graduation, careers and upward mobility. The administration is also working to connect postsecondary students with other services to help them complete their education, like notifying Pell Grant recipients of potential eligibility for nutrition assistance or broadband subsidies. 

Because many students also struggle financially, this administration is also focused on college affordability. 

"I'm proud the President's Build Back Better agenda includes large increases to the Pell Grant program. We're also excited to extend Pell to more students like our Dreamers. These benefits will dramatically offer equitable access to higher education. It'll create a path to success for students of color and those from low-income families and enable many more students to attain the postsecondary credentials needed to enter high-demand careers. Of course, states must also do their part by investing in their institutions," Cardona said.

Cardona said that the costs of college can increase over time for students who borrow to pay for their education. "For too long, the answer to rising college costs has been larger loans. It's unacceptable that student loans could leave students and families worse off than if they had never gone to college. Student loans can also be a major contributor to post-college inequities, including exacerbating the racial wealth gap. This cannot continue," he said.

Cardona says that students and student loan borrowers can depend on the Department of Education for support in repaying their loans and receiving quality servicing. The administration has increased oversight of the student loan program and to date, has canceled over $12.5 billion of debt for nearly 640,000 borrowers across the country. As part of these actions, the administration recently announced improvements to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and put over 500,000 public service workers an average of nearly two years closer to loan forgiveness. 

The administration also delivered loan discharges to borrowers who were victims of fraud, became disabled or were otherwise eligible for loan relief. To emphasize a commitment to oversight, accountability and enforcement, the Federal Student Aid Office of Enforcement is getting a reboot. 

"To truly address the disparities of the student loan program, we all must unapologetically commit to equity. Transforming higher education requires uplifting diversity, equity and inclusion across all facets of our educational system. Education can be the great equalizer if we prioritize, replicate and invest in what works for students. This means identifying and addressing underlying systemic barriers to lead to policies and practice that drive inequitable outcomes," Cardona said. 

One way you as institutional and financial aid leaders can do this is by focusing on students' basic needs. Institutions are using their own funds, HEER funds from the American Rescue Plan and other relief bills to provide mental health support for students. They've also used these funds to eliminate health care fees and started libraries of free and open textbooks to lower the cost of college. 

Several of your institutions, especially those that have the most economically and socially diverse student bodies, have discharged unpaid institutional balances so students can re-enroll or complete their degrees.  

"To emerge from the pandemic even stronger, institutional leaders must embrace long-term change. This means greater investments in evidence-based wraparound services that help students succeed at higher rates. It means evaluating long-standing institutional policies that block retention and completion for our most underserved students, such as enrollment and transcript holds for students with unpaid balances," said Cardona.

Implementing the FAFSA Simplification Act will require major changes to the processes and systems used to award financial aid but will far outweigh the effort, including the increased access to educational opportunity resulting from expansion of the Federal Pell Grant and streamlining of an application process. This has proved to be a barrier for students and families in underserved communities. 

Federal Update: FAFSA Simplification

The federal update of FAFSA simplification breaks down into several areas: a legislative update, FAFSA Simplification Act implementation, Student Aid Index, other FAFSA simplification changes and privacy and data sharing.

Legislative Update

Consolidated Appropriations Act was passed into public law in 2021, which concerned the FUTURE Act and the FAFSA Simplification Act.

  • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​FUTURE Act: Allows the IRS to share data with FSA for increased ease in administering federal student aid programs. 
  • FAFSA Simplification Act: Introduces significant changes to the FAFSA application process, including changes to the FAFSA form and how students and families complete the form and application and eligibility calculation.

FAFSA Simplification Act Implementation

Under the FAFSA Simplification Act, part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, the Department of Education must repeal the 150% Direct Subsidized Loan Limit.

The removal of Selective Service and drug conviction requirements for Title IV eligibility will also occur. Male students will not register with the Selective Service before the age of 26 to be eligible for federal student aid and suspension of eligibility for Title IV for drug-related convictions will also occur. In addition, homeless questions will become renewal eligible.

Student Aid Index

Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will change to Student Aid Index (SAI) to determine eligibility for need-based aid. The equation for determining need will look like this: 

  • Need = Cost of Attendance (COA) - Student Aid Index (SAI) - Other Financial Assistance (OFA)
  • The EFC was confusing because it sounded to families that they needed to pay that amount of money for college.

In addition:
  • Income will now mostly be determined by FADDX transfer.

  • Assets will mostly be the same, though child support received will count, and family farms and small businesses are no longer excluded.

  • The SAI can be a negative number, down to -$1,500.

  • Those who are not required to file a return in the base year will get an automatic -1500.

  • Auto-Zero SAI available to those who qualify for a maximum Pell Grant unless they have a negative SAI.

  • Non-tax filers, single parent filers with a 0 < AGI ≤ 225% of poverty line and non-single student or parent with 0 < AGI ≤ 175% of poverty line can get a maximum Pell.

  • Those ineligible for max Pell and with SAI < max Pell: Pell grant = max Pell - SAI unless that is < min Pell (10% of the max), then no Pell.

  • Dependent students can still get minimum Pell if their parent is a single parent whose AGI ≤ 325% of the poverty line and is not a single parent and whose AGI ≤ 275% of the poverty line. 

  • Independent students can still get minimum Pell if they are a single parent whose AGI ≤ 400% of the poverty line, are a parent but not a single parent and AGI ≤ 350% of the poverty line or are not a parent and have an AGI ≤ 275% of the poverty line.

Other FAFSA Simplification Changes

A few more pointers:

  • Dependents of the parent: Under the FSA, it only includes the student plus those who live with and receive more than half support from the parent. 
  • Family size: Family size now refers to the Internal Revenue code and the definition of dependent in section 152 and those who would qualify for the child tax credit under section 24.
  • Provisional independent student: A new status for those students who indicate that they cannot provide parent information on the FAFSA.

Privacy and Data Sharing

According to HEA 483(a)(3)(E), data collected by such electronic versions of the forms may only be used for the application, award and administration of aid awarded under this title, state aid or aid awarded by eligible institutions or such entities that the Secretary may designate. The Simplification Act allows more latitude for sharing FAFSA data.

The Clery Act

The Clery Group enforces the Clery Act, HEA Fire Safety Provisions and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. The Clery Group conducts program reviews and ongoing monitoring, complaint assessments, media assessments, technical assistance, training and policy support related to campus safety.

The Annual Security Report on each campus must include campus safety and crime prevention policies, procedures, programmatic information and campus crime statistics. It needs to be presented to enrolled and prospective students and current and prospective employees. Each school must have:

  • Timely warning procedures
  • Emergency response and evacuation procedures
  • Drug or alcohol abuse programs

Campus security authority (CSA) members can include: president and school administration, res life, athletic department, victim advocates office, public safety, student life/Greek/student government and Title IX coordinators.

"This is our moment to ensure that all students can fulfill their great potential and thrive. Let's shape an educational environment that enables success for everyone. Together, we got this," Cardona said. 


Posted in College Admissions Criteria.

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