Lankford Wants Investigation into Biden Admin’s Botched FAFSA Rollout, Impact on Students and Schools
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) along with Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and 26 lawmakers requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation into the Biden Administration’s failure to properly implement the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) program, delaying students and families’ access to crucial financial aid for college.
The lawmakers seek information as to how the Department of Education is addressing the issues in the FAFSA rollout to prevent future complications and ensure students can access and submit FAFSA to their prospective colleges in a timely manner.
“However, repeated delays from the Department of Education (Education) in rolling out the new FAFSA have left students and schools in limbo for the upcoming school year,” wrote the lawmakers. “All these challenges and delays may cause some students—particularly low-income students who are most dependent on federal aid—to give up and not pursue postsecondary education.”
“Beyond the initial delays, it is also unclear whether Education is providing students and schools with sufficient information and guidance on the new FAFSA form and process,” continued the lawmakers. “The goal of FAFSA simplification was in part to make the whole process easier for students and their families…However, initial feedback from students and schools indicates that Education’s current outreach efforts are falling short.”
The bipartisan FAFSA Simplification Act passed in 2020 with the intention of making financial aid more accessible for all students by streamlining the application process. The legislation required the Department of Education (Education) to roll out the FAFSA program by January 1st, 2024. Despite having three years to prepare for the FAFSA rollout, Education only made the application available for borrowers for a mere 30 minutes on December 30th before taking it down and then making it live for only one additional hour on December 31st. The application was then only accessible for sporadic periods until it became fully live on Saturday, January 6th, days after the deadline set by Congress. Even worse, many students have experienced technical difficulties while trying to fill out the new form.
On top of these complications, FAFSA has normally been available for students on October 1st. The delayed timeline along with Education’s setbacks forced high school counselors to postpone financial aid information sessions and counselors are now rushing to connect with students and families to help them navigate through the new FAFSA process. Additionally, these setbacks mean colleges cannot provide students with financial aid offers, giving students less time and less information to compare financial aid packages and choose the best college option.
Lankford, Cassidy, and Foxx are joined by Senators John Barrasso, M.D. (R-WY), Mike Braun (R-IN), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Steve Daines (R-MT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Deb Fischer (R-NE) Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-KS), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and J.D. Vance (R-OH). They are also joined by Representatives Rick Allen (R-GA), Erin Houchin (R-IN), Lisa McClain (R-MI), Burgess Owens (R-UT), Lloyd Smucker (R-PA), Michelle Steel (R-CA), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Tim Walberg (R-MI), and Brandon Williams (R-NY).
Read the full letter here or below.
Dear Comptroller General Dodaro:
Each year, almost 18 million students submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine their eligibility for federal grants, work-study, and loans. These students often depend on the FAFSA to determine if they can afford college and decide how they are going to pay for it. Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act in 2020 to streamline the application and calculations for federal student aid, reducing the number of questions from more than 100 to as few as 18 for many applicants.
However, repeated delays from the Department of Education (Education) in rolling out the new FAFSA have left students and schools in limbo for the upcoming school year. Although students have traditionally been able to start submitting a FAFSA each year on October 1st, Education was three months late launching the new application and it was not consistently available on Education’s website until early January (after a “soft launch” on December 30th).
These delays have left many students uncertain about their educational future. For example, high school counselors have had to postpone financial aid information sessions and must now rush to connect with students and help them navigate through the new FAFSA process. Because of Education’s delays, college administrators are also uncertain of when they will eventually receive information from students’ FAFSAs that is essential for determining financial aid packages. Some colleges may be unable to meet their normal timelines for providing students with financial aid offers, which could leave students without time to compare offers and pick a school that is affordable. All these challenges and delays may cause some students—particularly low-income students who are most dependent on federal aid—to give up and not pursue postsecondary education.
Beyond the initial delays, it is also unclear whether Education is providing students and schools with sufficient information and guidance on the new FAFSA form and process. The goal of FAFSA simplification was in part to make the whole process easier for students and their families. This is possible only if Education is providing students with clear communications on how to navigate the new application. Similarly, schools need guidance on the new process so they can adjust their own financial aid systems to account for the FAFSA changes. However, initial feedback from students and schools indicates that Education’s current outreach efforts are falling short.
Given these concerns, we request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine the following issues:
- To what extent, if at all, did students and schools face challenges applying for and administering federal student aid during the initial award cycle for the new FAFSA?
- What steps has Education taken to identify and address these challenges, if any, in preparation for next year’s award cycle?
- To what extent has Education provided students with sufficient information on how to complete the new FAFSA and navigate the application process?
- To what extent has Education provided schools with sufficient guidance and communications for incorporating the FAFSA changes into their own financial aid award processes?