On July 13, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) announced it was temporarily changing its financial aid verification process for the 2021-22 award year, effective immediately. In a press release, the Department notes the change is in response to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on postsecondary education and low enrollment numbers for students of color and students from a low-income background.

The temporary pause seeks to alleviate barriers that may stop students from receiving financial aid. However, though it is a small portion of overall verification efforts, some verification activity will still occur to root out identity theft and fraud or other institutional-based verification processes. It is unclear if this move is temporary in the face of COVID-19 disruptions or if it will remain permanent. Even so, the announcement is one more step that may fix a leak in the FAFSA completion pipeline, resulting in more aid for Florida’s students.

Every year, a subset of students are selected to submit additional information for verification, a process that USDOE credits with ensuring proper federal aid is awarded to students. Like a tax audit, students have to submit additional documentation or go through other institution-specific processes to verify their income with each postsecondary institution where they were selected for verification.

There is little evidence that verification leads to significant changes in financial aid awards. Yet, the most recent National College Attainment Network reporting reveals an 18% selection rate for the 2021-22 award year. The process can be time-consuming and complicated, particularly for students who may already struggle to fill out the FAFSA. Daunted by the additional steps required, some students never finish verification (as many as 1 in 4 selected) and are then ineligible for the federal aid needed to reach their postsecondary goals.

So, what does this mean for students?

Pausing verification removes one more barrier for students trying to receive needed aid this year. Students who were notified of verification selection and have not completed the process with their postsecondary institution will no longer need to submit the required documentation to receive federal aid. For students who submitted some documentation but not enough to complete the verification process, postsecondary institutions will still need to reconcile any discrepancies before they can disburse federal aid to the student.

Because of this sudden change from USDOE and the need for colleges and universities to create new procedures to align with the announcement, FCAN recommends that any student who has not completed the verification process and may benefit from the temporary changes contact their institution’s financial aid office. FCAN will provide additional updates if new information or guidance is released.


Key takeaways from “Paying for College Part IV — FAFSA Verification Update: Reducing ‘Melt’ with a More Targeted Approach”
Despite a dip in the current selection rate, FAFSA verification remains a hurdle for students

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