The Department of Education is temporarily changing its federal student aid verification process to focus only on identity theft and fraud for the 2021-22 application cycle. The change is intended to help alleviate challenges students face in accessing financial aid and boost enrollment numbers for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.
Typically, the department requires a portion of federal student aid applicants who are eligible for Pell Grants to submit additional documentation -- such as income tax returns, W-2 statements and 1099 forms -- to verify their income and other information reported on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The process often adds additional burdens to the financial aid process and disproportionately affects low-income students and students of color, since non-Pell Grant recipients aren't selected for income verification.
"We need to ensure students have the most straightforward path to acquiring the financial aid they need to enroll in college and continue their path to a degree," said Richard Cordray, chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid, in a release. "Targeting verification to focus on identity theft and fraud this aid cycle ensures we address immediate student needs, continue to protect the integrity of the Federal Pell Grant Program, and reduce barriers to access for underserved students."
In a statement, Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, noted that the verification process impacts the same population of students who have also been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, underscoring the necessity of the temporary change.
"This singular act from the Department of Education provides sweeping relief to students and schools when they need it most, and will fast-track financial aid dollars to students who are otherwise mired in bureaucratic red tape," Draeger said.
National College Attainment Network executive director Kim Cook highlighted how the streamlined FAFSA verification helps not only students but staff as well.
"This relief also helps our advisers and school counselors to better focus their time on outreach and support to students to stay on track for their postsecondary goals," Cook said in a statement. "This is especially important as we seek to build back from historic college enrollment drops of over 10 percent for students from low-income backgrounds."