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The new version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid won’t be available to students until December, the Education Department confirmed this week.

The department’s Office of Federal Student Aid released a road map outlining key dates and milestones over the next several months, ending with the launch of the new application in December. The new application is just one piece of a broader overhaul of the student financial system that Congress passed in 2020 with the FAFSA Simplification Act. That overhaul includes simplifying the underlying formula used to determine aid eligibility.

Before the release of the application, FSA is planning to share online tools that families, students, counselors and others can use to estimate aid eligibility under the new formula, and the office will hold numerous training sessions on the new system. Those tools include a table that advocates say will make it easier for families and students to determine their Pell Grant eligibility. The FAFSA Simplification Act based Pell Grant eligibility on household size and adjusted gross income, similar to the federal poverty guidelines.

“More than 17 million students and thousands of schools use the FAFSA form to help access and award financial aid every year, but far too many are locked out of aid because of the cumbersome processes and outdated technology that come with the current form,” FSA chief operating officer Richard Cordray said in a statement. “That’s why the Department of Education has been working hard on the 2024–25 FAFSA form, which will make it easier and simpler for students and families to receive the financial support they need while also making more students eligible for aid.”

The agency previously said the application would be released in the fourth quarter of the year, and officials said Wednesday that FSA is on track for the December launch. The application has launched on Oct. 1 since 2016.

Catherine Brown, senior policy director for the National College Attainment Network, said in an interview that the road map narrowed the window for the new application’s release, which was helpful. She and others still want a specific date.

“We’re heartened that they narrow the window to December, but December has 31 days in it,” she said.

Brown and other financial aid and college access professionals said the release of the timeline was a “big step forward” in the process toward a simplified FAFSA. They’ve been eagerly awaiting concrete updates from the department on how the rollout of the new application will work.

The outline of when training sessions and other resources will be available also will be key for colleges and other groups in their planning, Brown said.

“It’s very helpful to have clarity around when different materials, tools and resources will be released so that members and key stakeholders can make plans for how they’re going to use those resources,” she said.

Kim Cook, executive director of NCAN, said the release of the road map is another step toward the organization’s longtime goal of simplifying the FAFSA.

“While this one-time delayed release of the 2024–25 form will call on us to be flexible in a compressed time frame for aid and admission applications and decisions, we understand the need to launch the significant changes ahead in a tested, secure way,” Cook said. “We are confident that the resulting simplified FAFSA will reap benefits for many years to come.”

A coalition of eight national organizations including NCAN sent a letter this month to the Education Department, calling on officials to commit to a specific release date by May 1, release the Pell Grant tables by the same day and share a communications plan about the FAFSA delay by July 1, among other steps.

“A delayed release date could compound that confusion and result in a decline in applicants for federal student aid,” the coalition wrote. “We want to work with you to avoid that scenario.”

Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, applauded FSA for committing to a December 2023 release and sharing the road map.

“We know Federal Student Aid understands the importance of this process and we are pleased they are providing the resources and training necessary for the student aid and college access professionals to fully implement these changes,” Draeger said in a statement. “While this is later than usual, knowing when the FAFSA will be released will help institutions, states, and college-access organizations prepare and plan appropriately. Along with the department, our top priority is to have the FAFSA released securely, stably, and accurately.”

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