US Dept. of Education launches FAFSA support strategy with deadline for federal aid inching closer

The U.S. Department of Education announced additional steps on Monday to support the many students and their families who are in the process of completing the overhauled Free Application for Federal Student Aid after a shaky relaunch and complicated start for applicants.

“We are determined to close the FAFSA completion gap,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten in a statement. “The funding we’re announcing today will support states, districts, and community-based groups build capacity and leverage their power to ensure that every student who needs help paying for college turns in their FAFSA form.”

In a news release, the department said the $50 million program is part of the “FAFSA Student Support Strategy” and addresses known issues with the 2024-25 form to help boost its completion. Since the application became available in December, only around 9 million forms have been successfully submitted, according to the Department of Education.

Jack Wallace, the head of government affairs and industry relations at Yrefy, a Phoenix-based student loan provider, said there’s a long way to go, as around 18 million people fill out the FAFSA each year.

The Department of Education said it has sent approximately 70 million emails to students encouraging them to complete the FAFSA form, which is being referred to as the “Better FAFSA” to reflect the many changes made to it since last year.

The new application is shorter, with only 36 questions, and most of the information will be pulled directly from income tax returns. A new IRS tool also simplifies the process, with the caveat that the family’s 2022 taxes have been completed and can be easily imported into FAFSA.

Though the changes are intended to help, Wallace said the rollout hasn’t been easy.

“Not only do you have students having a difficult time still getting on the website and getting things processed on the front end, but there’s also a delay in getting the data to the schools,” Wallace said.

The department has been in touch with hundreds of superintendents and principals to help drive submission efforts, garnering over 200 commitments from companies, non-profits, and community organizations to help boost FAFSA submissions.

Minnesota-based Educational Credit Management Corporation will implement the multi-million-dollar support program to assist organizations with demonstrated experience in expanding college access and enrollment.

“The funding will be prioritized for organizations currently working with schools and districts, and those that have deep ties with students and families which have the reach and capacity to help decrease barriers and increase FAFSA submissions,” the department said.

The application deadline for financial aid for the upcoming school year is June 30.