What Should Colleges Do to Prepare for the New FAFSA Changes and Timeline? 

photo of college students

The next admissions cycle will force every college or university in the U.S. to sail uncharted waters. While anticipating an uncertain economic outlook and contending with a market reset post-COVID, schools must also prepare for the most significant changes to the FAFSA in decades, including a delayed launch of the application for the 2024-2025 Awarding Year. And all of that just for starters. 

The impacts of the FAFSA changes will not be felt equally. Schools that have been facing chronic enrollment challenges are particularly vulnerable, considering the truncated timeline to respond to the upcoming changes. Worse, schools are aware of these competitive strengths and weaknesses and will seek advantage.  So, greater competition for fewer students. It’s imperative that schools make decisions using the best data available, budget accordingly, and execute effectively if they are to hit their enrollment goals this year. 

Below are our recommendations for how enrollment teams can start contingency planning for the next cycle.  

Webinar: The Reinvention of Financial Aid – How to Prepare For The Changes of the Next Awarding Cycle

Join us to hear our advice on combatting the upcoming FAFSA changes and to get a sneak peek into some of MARKETview’s newest financial aid reporting, which will be released later this month.

Have Conversations with Leadership About the Challenge Now 

Even though there is uncertainty, and many are concerned there could be further delays in the launch of the Better FAFSA Better Future initiative, schools can plan for what they do know and anticipate the likely magnitude of what they do not.  

We know that the volume of filers will look different on a month-to-month basis this year and schools will have to respond accordingly. We also know that the new FAFSA changes and Pell eligibility will not affect every student equally—Pell access will increase for students with the greatest need, while middle-class families may see reduced  “need” or a larger contribution that does not reflect their true ability (or willingness to pay). We know that schools are going to face an incredibly tight timeline to make admissions and financial aid decisions and may not have the resources they need to meet deadlines.  

Enrollment teams must have difficult conversations with school leadership about the realities of the challenges they will face this year. The shorter timeline means that additional staff and other resources may be needed to process applications if decisions and aid packages are to be delivered on time. Because of the delays in receiving FAFSA data, schools will not know the full financial reality of their incoming classes as early as they have in prior years. School leadership will need to decide what risks they are willing to take to meet their awarding timelines. 

IT Resourcing Decisions May Need to Be Elevated to the President

In making sure the CFO and leadership team understand the need to budget for contingent financial impact, and while you brief the president, communications staff, and leadership team about the disruption to recruitment process, cadence, and relationship-building these changes pose, don’t lose sight of the seemingly mundane “politics of attention.”  

Specifically, in order to work with your analytic partners to develop the necessary vision, you’ll need more student and FAFSA data than you’ve needed to utilize in the past. Getting this from IT will require both time and priority. It can’t just be another ticket for the IT staff.  You may need the president to make it clear to the IT managers and staff that these data requests are not just the continuous curiosity of the enrollment team, but something the president considers a crucial institutional priority that impacts the college and each student directly.

Plan for Any Scenario—Including A Further Delay in Applications 

This is a crucial time to start creating policies and contingency plans for the possible “what ifs.”  

What if the application doesn’t open on December 1? What if that date gets pushed back to January 1…or later?  
Not only is the application going to be delayed but the amount of federal aid given to students will look much different this year and the years to come. It’s critical for an institution to assess and refine its methodology to understand what is considered “need” compared to a family’s ability to pay.  

The first step is to assess who your students are and how many of them and their families will be affected by the new Student Aid Index (SAI). This is a challenge that MARKETview helps our partners solve because we can provide enriched student records with household-level consumer data, so you understand the socioeconomic profile of each family at the inquiry stage.  

In other words, we can help you understand not just a family’s ability to pay, but their willingness to pay too.  

Build Communications Plans and Start Communicating Early 

You may not know the full extent of the FAFSA changes, nonetheless, you can still communicate what you do know while acknowledging the unknowns and your intention to communicate as soon as you have more answers With the upcoming tight turnaround, schools will need to build resources so students and parents can self-serve when the application opens. Internal communications need to be prioritized as well, as these changes will affect the entire campus community, not just enrollment or financial aid offices. For example, even ERP solutions for your campus will be affected, as technology vendors are anxiously waiting to see the new application so they can respond accordingly.  

Every unit on campus should expect to be impacted. 

Partner with MARKETview 

In preparing for the effects of the new FAFSA, this is a moment when MARKETview partners will have a competitive advantage. MARKETview provides clarity and context to understand a student’s financial circumstances early on, so schools can make better decisions, faster.  

Interested in learning more? Schedule a demo with us.  

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