Department of Education Extended FAFSA Verification Waiver
Fewer students will need to verify financial aid information this school year, Education Department says
It’s been nearly a year since the Department of Education first relaxed its audit of students seeking federal financial aid during the pandemic. Advocates for higher education feared the department would change course as the months went by with no extensions announced. They said ending the temporary waiver would exacerbate already low FAFSA completion rates and declining enrollment at colleges that serve high proportions of low-income students.
“We commend the Department of Education for providing this significant relief to students and schools when they need it most,” said Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. students. “The audit is having a disproportionate impact on low-income students, the same population that is most affected by today’s economic turmoil.”
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The audit is supposed to maintain the integrity of the $120 billion federal financial aid system, but it is widely criticized as an invasive, time-consuming and unnecessary barrier for some of the most vulnerable populations.
According to the Department of Education, at least 20% of eligible Pell applicants are exempt from filing taxes due to low income. This prevents them from easily importing verified income data from the IRS onto their FAFSA form and requires more legwork to complete the audit.
A Washington Post analysis of the latest federal data year found that for at least the past decade, the Department of Education has disproportionately audited students from predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods. These same populations are at the center of the sharp decline in college enrollment since the pandemic, especially at community colleges.
Nearly a quarter of the roughly 18 million students who filed the FAFSA were selected for the 2019-20 cycle audit. A federal data analysis by the non-profit National College Attainment Network (NCAN) concluded that high audit rates are an inefficient way to unearth unnecessary spending. When the Department of Education selected fewer students in the 2019-2020 FAFSA cycle, the organization found that it actually prevented more abusive payments than in the previous cycle.
“As the covid pandemic continues to create challenges for prospective and current students, we must do all we can to reduce barriers to accessing college,” Kim Cook, executive director of University, said Wednesday. NCAN, commending the department for maintaining the waiver.
At the end of March, FAFSA applications for the 2022-2023 cycle were down 8.9% year-over-year, according to NCAN, which tracks filings. Additionally, FAFSA renewals for currently enrolled students fell 12.3% and renewals for Pell-eligible students fell 15.6%. Cook said she hopes to see those trends reverse as a result of the audit waiver.