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U.S. Department of Ed Announces Dec. 31 Rollout for New FAFSA

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WASHINGTON — College financial aid applicants can expect the release of the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, on Dec. 31, according to an announcement by the U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday.

Schools and applicants in Virginia and elsewhere have been waiting eagerly for the announcement after the agency said on March 21 that it would roll out the form in December but did not provide an exact date, creating uncertainty about how financial aid processes would unfold this year.

“The department has been working closely with all of our partners to prepare for the many changes to the better FAFSA experience,” the education department said in a statement. “To ensure a smooth experience for students and families, the department is issuing guidance, hosting webinars, and offering training support in the coming months.”

Virginia officials have fretted that delays in the FAFSA rollout would particularly impact first-generation and low-income students, as well as financial aid offices charged with processing applications and creating aid packages.

Before the announcement, many Virginia schools had already made deadline adjustments for students to file financial aid requests.

During the past three years, the department has been redesigning the form to make it less complex and allow more students access to financial aid after Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act.

Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, a nonprofit representing financial aid professionals across the country, said in a statement that the association is pleased with the announcement. However, he said schools need the federal government to quickly provide applicant data to institutions and “clearly” communicate updates.

Draeger said once financial aid offices receive applicant data, the distribution of financial aid offers will take at least several more weeks.

“A successful partnership between the financial aid community and [Education Department] means goodwill is extended by all stakeholders,” Drager said. “Financial aid professionals will work to shield students from the adverse effects of any truncated timelines. In addition to working as quickly as possible to deliver a completed FAFSA process, the department can partner in this effort by giving students realistic timelines and top-notch customer service, and giving schools the space and resources they need to focus solely on students for the next several months.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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