Release Notes

Mid-to-late each month, new release notes will be published to this page that provide a quick glimpse at what people are clicking most, hot topics related to Congressional or U.S. Department of Education happenings, lists of new resources and partners, and more.

 

October 2021

What's New

As the leaves start to change and the weather gets cooler, things are heating up on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) front. Earlier this month, Department of Education (ED) leadership participated in a town hall detailing significant changes to the PSLF program, where Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said borrowers “shouldn't have to jump through hoops. If you give 10 years of service to the community, you should have loans forgiven." Regulatory changes for PSLF are anticipated to come through the ongoing negotiated rulemaking process, in tandem with actions taken and announced by ED through its emergency authority that aim to reimagine the program and how it operates for those working in the public service sector. 

In other recent news, on September 30 the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) published an electronic announcement alerting financial aid professionals that FAFSA filers who use the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Non-Filer Portal, subsequently file a 2020 tax return, and then use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to transfer their tax information into the 2022-23 FAFSA form will incorrectly and unknowingly report an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $1. This error could result in a lower expected family contribution and a higher Pell Grant award for students who would not otherwise be eligible. The notice recommends aid administrators identify all instances of $1 AGIs for filers in the 2022-23 FAFSA cycle, and follow up with applicants to resolve the issue as needed. 

In a separate electronic announcement, also issued September 30, FSA warned of potential issues for 2022-23 FAFSA filers deriving from unemployment benefits being made non-taxable by the American Rescue Plan (ARP). FSA said it expects to see an issue with aid eligibility determination for some 2022­-23 filers, as well as income-driven repayment applicants for those with loan payment amounts based on 2020 tax information, even if the IRS DRT was used in either circumstance. Those who received unemployment benefits in 2020 and filed taxes prior to March 11, 2021, when the ARP was signed into law, will have a higher AGI on their original tax record compared to those who filed after the ARP was enacted. The notice encouraged aid administrators to work with impacted applicants who filed their taxes before March 11, 2021, to use professional judgment (PJ) to adjust the applicants' AGI as appropriate.

Read on for a look at what's new this month in the Ref Desk.

 

Trending Topics

Terms that are getting the most clicks and search traffic right now include: 

  1. Direct Loans
  2. Professional Judgment (PJ)
  3. Return of Title IV Funds (R2T4)
  4. Recordkeeping
  5. Verification
  6. Cohort Default Rate (CDR)
  7. Program Participation Agreement (PPA)
  8. Need Analysis

With student loan payments and interest accrual currently on pause through Jan. 31, 2022, and an exodus of former federal loan servicers, Direct Loans has remained the most viewed/searched for topic in the Ref Desk for the last several months. In the span of mere weeks in July, both Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) and Granite State announced they wouldn't seek to renew their contracts with ED when the current ones expire at the end of the year. Navient last month followed suit, bringing the total number of borrowers who will be under new servicers next year to roughly 16 million. Earlier this month, however, ED provided some guidance for borrowers who were serviced under PHEAA, which operates as FedLoan Servicing, and will soon be transferred to MOHELA. Additionally, FSA said it has begun transferring borrowers serviced by Granite State to Edfinancial, and all transfers are expected to be completed before the end of the year, noting that borrowers should look for notices from ED, in addition to their old or new servicer, regarding the status of their accounts with pertinent information about the transfer.

ED also formally unveiled details this month as to how the agency plans to rework the much-maligned PSLF program. In referring to the program as an important but unmet promise of offering student loan debt forgiveness to public servants, ED aims to take a number of actions in the coming months to remedy the program's high denial rate.

Specifically ED will offer, as a temporary opportunity, “a limited PSLF waiver” to give borrowers credit for prior payments they made that would not otherwise count toward PSLF. Any prior payments made while working for a qualifying employer will count as a qualifying payment, regardless of loan type or repayment plan.

Among the other departmental changes being developed in the coming months, ED will be seeking to simplify payment qualifications, reduce barriers for military service members enrolled in the program, review denied PSLF applications and correct processing errors, simplify and better communicate the application process, as well as continue work to overhaul the program through the ongoing negotiated rulemaking process.

 

New Resources

In the past month, we have added 23 new Department of Education resources, including new chapters from the Federal Student Aid Handbook, Dear Colleague letters, and electronic announcements. Below are some topical areas to check out. 

Enrollment Status

COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center's Update on Transfer Students - Published August, 2021)

Cohort Default Rate

Electronic Announcement (LOANS-21-08) (Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Published September, 2021)

GA-2021-01: Fiscal Year 2018 Cohort Default Rate Calculations (Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Published September, 2021)

Verification

Electronic Announcement (VERIF-21-02) (Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Published September, 2021)

Federal Register (Office of the Federal Register - Published June 2021)

Federal Register (Office of the Federal Register - Published September 2021)

Federal Register (Office of the Federal Register - Published September 2021)

Cash Management

Electronic Announcement (GRANTS-21-05) (Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Published June, 2021)

Electronic Announcement (GRANTS-21-09) (Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Published September, 2021)

Electronic Announcement (GRANTS-21-10) (Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Published September, 2021)

Need Analysis

Federal Student Aid Estimator (Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Published September, 2021)

SAR Comment Codes and Text, 2022-23 (Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Published August, 2021)

Recordkeeping 

Electronic Announcement, (EA ID: CB-21-10) (Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Published August, 2021)

Electronic Announcement (GENERAL-21-57) (Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Published September, 2021)

Expected Family Contribution 

Federal Register, Federal Need Analysis Methodology for Award Year (AY) 2022-23: Expected Family Contribution (Office of the Federal Register - Published July 2021)

The EFC Formula Guide, 2022-23 - Expected Family Contribution (Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Published September, 2021)

Direct Loans 

Electronic Announcement (FS-2021-01) (Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Published September, 2021)

Audit and Program Review 

Electronic Announcement (EA ID: GENERAL-21-21) (Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Published March, 2021)

Anyone may submit resources for inclusion in the Ref Desk using this form. Research and reports should be nonpartisan, and NASFAA staff will review all submitted items before inclusion. 

 

Featured Functionality

The Ref Desk is designed to make a variety of resources available in one place. Did you know you can find guidance from the U.S. Department of Education by searching any term? For example, if you search Return of Title IV Funds, there is a main section for ED References, as well as throughout the subtopics, as applicable. 

 

Become a Ref Desk Partner

We have recently added seven new partners. The Ref Desk is pleased to welcome EDUCAUSE, NACE, NAFEO, PNPI, ARL, and scholars Lyle McKinney, Ph.D., and Laura Perna, Ph.D., as supporting partners. If you are, or know, a group or individual interested in becoming a Ref Desk partner, please reach out to NASFAA's Research Department for more details on how to join our growing group of supporters. There are many different ways to get involved and help us champion the Ref Desk!

 

Roadmap

We are currently developing a new Ref Desk term: Financial Literacy. We are also working on adding the source of each reference to our search functionality so you'll be able to see where a resource came from even before clicking on it. We expect the new term and the new search functionality will be available later this fall. 

Have suggestions to help us improve the Ref Desk? Contact Us.

 

August 2021

What's New

August is usually a slow month in Washington, D.C. as congressional offices empty for a month-long in-district recess. But all is not quiet on the northern front of the U.S. Capitol as the Senate presses forward on high profile spending bills that could push a number of higher education priorities to the forefront of floor debate. In addition, the Department of Education has announced its intent to begin regulating several topics covered in the Student Aid Reference Desk. 

While we wait for more clarity on the Senate's draft legislation, there are a number of specific policies that NASFAA is following throughout this process. (We've flagged related terms in the Ref Desk for each.)

Double Pell: The administration has pledged to double the maximum Pell Grant award and as a part of the annual appropriations cycle both the president and House Democrats have included a $400 increase in discretionary funding to the maximum Pell Grant. In the American Families Plan released in April, the administration proposed an additional increase of $1,475 in mandatory funding to the maximum award.

Free community college: The president has unveiled a plan that would provide two years of free community college, a proposal that could find its way into the legislative text of a reconciliation package. Check out the community college-focused publications in the Ref Desk under Enrollment Status and Direct Loans to learn more about some of the unique challenges students in this sector face.

Campus-based aid programs: House appropriators and the White House have proposed increases for the campus-based aid programs which include boosting the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), Federal Work-Study (FWS), Federal TRIO programs, GEAR UP, and Career technical education (CTE) programs.

Also this month, the Department of Education announced some much-anticipated guidance that impacts student loan borrowers and financial aid administrators. Read on for a look at what's new this month in the Ref Desk.

 

Trending Topics

Terms that are getting the most clicks and search traffic right now include: 

  1. Direct Loans
  2. Return of Title IV Funds (R2T4)
  3. Packaging
  4. Verification
  5. Student Eligibility
  6. Program Participation Agreement (PPA)
  7. Institutional Eligibility
  8. Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

"Direct Loans" maintained its streak for most clicked-on topic again in August, which is no surprise given that — following weeks of pressure from top Democrats and advocacy organizations — the Department of Education on August 6 announced it will extend the pause on student loan payments and interest accrual past its September expiration date. The pause on payments will now be in place through Jan. 31, 2022, coming as a relief both for borrowers and for financial aid administrators who hadn't yet been given adequate information to successfully support their students' reentry to repayment. 

Several of the other trending topics this month give insight into what financial aid offices are focusing on at the moment, with terms like “packaging,” “student eligibility,” and “expected family contribution” rising to the top as financial aid administrators prepare for the rapidly approaching fall semester.

 

New Resources

In the past month, we have added 52 additional publications, articles, and other resources into the Ref Desk. Below are some topical areas to check out.

Pell Grants — Newly Added Publications, Articles & Other Resources:

The Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States: 2021 Historical Trend Report (The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education of the Council for Opportunity in Education - Published May 2021)

Academically Eligible and Ineligible Pell Grant Community College Students: A Qualitative Investigation (Community College Review - Published April 2021)

NCAN Conducts First Comprehensive Review of Impact of Verification on Pell Grant Awards (National College Attainment Network - Published August 2020)

Implementing Pell: Challenges and Successes of Implementing the U.S. Department of Education's Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative (Correctional Education Association - Published April 2020)

The Effects of Expanding Pell Grant Eligibility for Short Occupational Training Programs: Results from the Experimental Sites Initiative (National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance - Published December 2020)

Prisoners' Eligibility for Pell Grants: Issues for Congress (Congressional Research Service - Published May 2019)

Consumer Information — Newly Added Resource:

Navigating Risky Higher Education Investments: Implications for Practitioners and Consumers  (Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning - Published in 2021)

Expected Family Contribution — Newly Added Resource:

The Insurance Value of Financial Aid (National Bureau of Economic Research - Published April 2021)

 

Featured Functionality

This month we'd like to focus on the trending and suggested topic features on the homepage. “Trending Topics” reflect the most popular terms based on user visits in the past 30 days, while “Suggested Topics” is a way for NASFAA to flag what it thinks users should keep an eye on — normally these are timely topics NASFAA is seeing bubbling up with the U.S. Department of Education or members of the higher education community.

 

Become a Ref Desk Partner

If you are, or know, a group or individual interested in becoming a Ref Desk partner, please reach out to NASFAA's Research Department for more details on how to join our growing group of supporters. There are many different ways to get involved and help us champion the Ref Desk!

 

Roadmap

Currently we are exploring ways to:

  1. Measure the user experience.
  2. Increase viewers of the tool.

Have suggestions to help us improve the Ref Desk? Contact Us.

 

July 2021

What's New

Well, here we are in the dog days of summer. The news out of the Department of Education doesn't seem to be slowing down one bit and neither is the rapid clip at which we're adding resources into the Student Aid Reference Desk. Read on for a look at what's new.

 

Trending Topics

Terms that are getting the most clicks and search traffic right now include: 

  1. Direct Loans
  2. Verification
  3. Return of Title IV Funds (R2T4)
  4. Student Eligibility
  5. Institutional Eligibility
  6. Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
  7. Program Participation Agreement (PPA)
  8. Professional Judgment (PJ)

"Direct Loans" was the most clicked-on topic for the third month in a row, a trend we expect will continue in the coming months. Questions related to Direct Loans will surely continue bubbling up given that, as of last quarter, 42 million borrowers (all but 500,000 borrowers) were taking advantage of the federal forbearance period that paused payments and interest accrual on all federally held student loans. A slew of top Democrats from both chambers of Congress are increasingly pressuring President Joe Biden and leadership at the Department of Education to extend the pause on payments, which will resume as of October 1, if no extension is granted.

It also comes at no surprise to see "Verification" second on the list of terms getting the most traffic, particularly given the department's announcement earlier this month that it is making temporary changes to the verification process for the 2021-22 award year as a means of providing relief to students financially challenged by the pandemic and aim to reduce barriers to enrollment for millions of low-income students to access financial aid. Under this new guidance, effective July 13, financial aid offices are able to waive all income verification in all groups of applicants, a move that prevents students who need funding the most from getting bogged down in bureaucratic red tape.

 

New Resources

Each week this summer, Ref Desk partners and NASFAA staff will focus on adding historical resources to a particular topic in an effort to make the Ref Desk a full repository. In June, we focused on Verification, Student Eligibility, Enrollment Status, and Satisfactory Academic Progress, and so far in July we have focused on the Pell Grant and TEACH Grant. We encourage readers to check out the nearly 50 publications that were recently added on these topics.

 

Featured Functionality

This month we'd like to focus on the submission feature. We are always looking to make the Ref Desk more robust. Do you think there is a piece of research that we should include? Anyone may submit resources for inclusion in the Ref Desk using this form. Research and reports should be nonpartisan and NASFAA staff will review all submitted items before inclusion.

 

Partners Spotlight

This month the Ref Desk would like to spotlight one of our contributing partners: the American Council on Education (ACE). As a member of the Ref Desk's contributing partners, ACE helps provide overall feedback on works contributed and elevates the tool to their membership. 

If you are, or know, a group or individual interested in becoming a Ref Desk partner, please reach out to NASFAA's Research Department for more details on how to join our growing group of supporters. There are many different ways to get involved and help us champion the Ref Desk!

Have suggestions to help us improve the Ref Desk? Contact Us.