• Golden Fleece March
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Rep. French Hill (AR-02) named the Department of Education (ED) as the latest recipient of his Golden Fleece Award for poor implementation of the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the upcoming 2024-2025 academic year.
Rep. Hill said, “The Department of Education has utterly failed in their rollout of the new simplified FAFSA ahead of the 2024-2025 school year. The Department has missed numerous timelines, despite past extensions from Congress, and is leaving students and schools at risk. Because of the ED’s delays, schools have been unable to extend offers of student assistance, leaving students behind schedule to enroll in and prepare for the upcoming school year. Ultimately, I am naming ED as the latest recipient of my Golden Fleece Award for failing to meet their deadlines, potentially harming student access to higher education and discouraging the next generation of young learners from continuing to pursue their education that prepares them to join the workforce.”
In a letter to ED Secretary Miguel Cardona, Rep. Hill writes:
Dear Secretary Cardona:
---- I write today to inform you that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is the most recent recipient of my Golden Fleece Award. I am awarding this to ED for your department’s mismanaged rollout of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2024-2025 academic year.
---- After allowing the Internal Revenue Service to share specified tax information related to a student’s application with ED, schools, and others as a part of the FUTURE Act (P.L. 116-91), Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act in December 2021 as a part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (P.L. 116-260) to streamline the application process for students and to make financial aid more accessible. This legislation originally would have made a new FAFSA effective starting July 1, 2023, for the 2023-2024 academic year; however, in March 2022, Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act Technical Corrections Act as a part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 (P.L. 117-103) to push the general effective date back one year, to July 1, 2024, coinciding with the beginning of the 2024-2025 award year.
---- Traditionally, students and their families can complete the FAFSA starting on October 1 of the year proceeding the upcoming academic year; for the 2024-2025 academic year, this would have meant making the FAFSA available on October 1, 2023. However, your department did not make the FAFSA for 2024-2025 available until December 30, 2023. Once the application was finally made available, it was only online for about 30 minutes before ED pulled access to it because of technical issues, despite having three years to prepare. The application was then made live for only another half hour on December 31, 2023, and was sporadically available in the first days of 2024 before becoming fully live on January 6th.

---- In the months since, ED has missed deadlines to provide Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) to schools, scholarship organizations, and state agencies multiple times. Without ISIRs, schools are unable to proceed in checking for available aid they can offer to students. In a December announcement that ED would soft launch the 2024-2025 FAFSA form, ED announced that schools, state grant offices, and scholarship groups that rely on the FAFSA to calculate student aid eligibility would not receive applicants’ information until late January. On January 30, 2024, this was later pushed back further to mid-March.
---- The delays from ED by not providing students and schools with the information needed to apply for, administer, offer, and accept student financial aid have put both students and schools in a precarious position. The slow rollout of the FAFSA for the upcoming year has also led high school counselors to postpone financial aid information sessions, and counselors now must rush to help students and their families navigate through the new FAFSA process. These setbacks from ED continue to cause additional delays for other processes that need to happen for students to attend an institute of higher education this fall. For example, on March 15, you sent a letter to presidents and chancellors of institutions of higher education in which you stated that you “believe some schools are still not fully prepared to receive ISIRs. However, while you are correct that some schools are unprepared to start receiving ISIRs and immediately utilize them to extend offers of financial aid, they are in such a position because of your agency’s failures to adhere to earlier timelines.
---- With students behind schedule and counselors and schools unable to answer students’ questions in a timely manner, many students find themselves unprepared and hesitant to make decisions about their fall plans. I have heard concerns from universities in my district about the impact this botched rollout will have on their ability to offer aid to students, enroll students, retain staff, and re-engage with students who might not otherwise seek higher education.
---- Your department has allowed your duties to update the FAFSA fall by the wayside, harming the next generation of college-bound students across the country, particularly those who planned to enroll this upcoming fall. Many students still do not know where they will attend because they do not have offers for financial assistance. Schools need flexibility to continue to make offers to students, and students need to be able to compare aid packages. This will likely require commitment deadlines to be extended past the traditional May 1 deadline to allow students and universities to continue working on enrolling students for the fall.
---- I am committed to ensuring effective fiscal practices at our Nation’s federal agencies. Should you require any additional authority from Congress to address these concerns, I urge you to notify us as soon as possible. I would also welcome any technical assistance you could provide to Congress to correct statutory issues that may have contributed to this problem. Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to working with you to address this important issue.

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