1. The new FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA),  has been delayed until December 2023.

As a result of the FAFSA Simplification Act, a Better FAFSA is planned for rollout this upcoming academic cycle – the first major redesign of the system in over 40 years. While the new FAFSA promises some exciting new changes that will streamline the application process and expand eligibility for federal aid, the release of the new FAFSA rollout has been delayed to December 2023, rather than the typical October 1st release. Critically for educators, advocates, and students, this delay will significantly shorten the amount of time that students will have to complete the FAFSA. Particularly for students from low-income backgrounds who are vastly overrepresented by FAFSA verification, early FAFSA completion is key to improving college-going; college access professionals must be prepared for this delay to ensure all students have access to FAFSA completion supports.  The U.S. Department of Education (USED) has released a 2024-2025 FAFSA Roadmap, that includes a timeline of upcoming key events, that will include Pell Grant look-up tables (May), trainings (Summer), FAFSA previews (July), and a Student Aid Index estimator (early Fall). 

2. Better FAFSA eliminates Expected Family Contribution (EFC) in favor of Student Aid Index (SAI). 

One of the largest changes to the Better FAFSA is the replacement of the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) with the new Student Aid Index (SAI). While largely calculated the same, the new SAI will no longer calculate the number of college students in a household, and will institute a new negative SAI of -$1,500, as opposed to a 0 EFC. While families with a negative SAI will not receive additional funds via the Pell Grant, this negative value should provide a more accurate picture of a student’s financial need and may allow institutions to provide financial aid packages that better meet the needs of students from low-income backgrounds.  

3. FAFSA will become more streamlined and inclusive.

With perpetual concerns over the confusing nature of completing the FAFSA, the Better FAFSA will now allow users to pull tax information directly from the IRS. Some questions previously on the FAFSA were also removed, including a question asking whether a student had a previous drug-related conviction. Optional questions have also been added that ask for gender and race/ethnicity that should allow for stronger data reporting on FAFSA completion. Additionally, current students who are incarcerated will regain eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant. 

4. More families are likely to become Pell-Eligible and receive the maximum Pell Grant.

Changes to Pell Grant calculations will allow more families to become eligible for the Pell Grant, with USED estimating that 48% of families with incomes between $40,000 and $70,000 will be eligible for at least a portion of the Pell Grant (Currently, only 14% of that income bracket are eligible). Overall, this means that over half a million families will gain Pell eligibility who previously were ineligible. Additionally, the USED anticipates that 93% of families with income below the $40,000 threshold will now become eligible for the maximum Pell Grant award of $7,395. While the purchasing power of the Pell Grant has decreased over time, combined with grant aid options in Tennessee, changes to financial aid calculations will improve access to opportunities for Tennesseans to finance their education. 

5. Tennessee leads the nation in FAFSA completion.

Because of key initiatives like the Tennessee FAFSA Frenzy, Tennessee currently leads the country in FAFSA completion, with 71.6% of high school seniors completing the FAFSA as of April 7th. Tennessee’s current FAFSA completion rate is 3% higher than at this same point last year, indicating progress for the state. While the state should celebrate this immense accomplishment, policymakers and advocates must pay close attention to large disparities in FAFSA completion that exist between counties and high schools. FAFSA completion rates in Tennessee by high school and by county can be found here

Equity Considerations

  1. Early FAFSA completion is key to improving college going, particularly for students from low-income backgrounds. With a two-month delay in FAFSA release, how might educators and advocates lobby LEAs to ensure that students with the greatest needs are not being left behind in college advising? How might college access professionals and organizations prepare with this FAFSA delay in mind? 
  2. Current data limitations of the FAFSA prevent completion data to be reported by race, but show large disparities in FAFSA completion by district. Particularly with significant disparities in college going by race, how might local leaders, particularly those in areas with large populations of students of color, leverage data to seek additional investment in targeted college access supports, like Gear Up Tennessee?
  3. Changes to the Pell Grant calculation may give more financial supports to students, but over half of Tennessee high school seniors are unfamiliar with the Pell Grant, and even less are familiar with the variety of other state grants that Tennessee offers. How might educators and advocates ensure that more students are aware of the variety of financial aid opportunities available to them?