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Education Department moving to speed up college financial aid awards after bumpy FAFSA rollout

The Department of Education announced new ways it is supporting colleges to ensure they can easily process its delayed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms Tuesday.

It is the second wave of support the department has announced after it said colleges will not receive this year’s student FAFSA information until March, significantly reducing the time schools have to process the forms and students have to choose an institution.

The department announced three new ways it will be helping colleges with FAFSA forms: reducing verification requirements, temporarily stopping program reviews and giving flexibility on recertification.

Previously, the department made schools verify a larger number of FAFSA applicants. That number will be cut back this year, except in cases where the department finds it necessary to avoid identity fraud.

Second, the department usually reviewed colleges to make sure they were eligible to receive FAFSA money. These programs will be suspended until June except in cases the department finds it necessary for suspected fraud.

The department said this ensures colleges will spend less time responding to department inquiries and more time on processing forms.

Lastly, schools typically must recertify 90 days before their department contract expires for federal aid. The department is waiving the 90-day requirement and allowing schools to take the full time to recertify.

The announcement builds on previous actions to support universities such as deploying federal personnel and giving more funding to schools so they can process the forms quickly once they are received.

It also comes amid critique from lawmakers, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) leading a letter with more than 100 other Democrats to the Education Department saying the agency needs to get a better handle on the FAFSA rollout.

“The recent announcements from the Department were a welcome first step in addressing the many challenges students, counselors, aid administrators, and relevant stakeholders are facing in accessing, submitting, and processing the new FAFSA form. But now, it is imperative that we all work together to ensure no student falls through the cracks or faces unnecessary challenges in accessing the aid they are due,” the Monday letter concluded.

FAFSA has been delayed multiple times this academic year, causing parents and students to worry about how they will make informed decisions when selecting a school when they are unsure when financial aid information will be made available to them.

Updated at 12:42 pm.

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