Collins Blasts Secretary of Education on Inexcusable FAFSA Delays


Opening Remarks: Click HERE to watch and HERE to download.


Q&A with Secretary Cardona: Click HERE to watch and HERE to download.


Washington, D.C. – At a hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2025 budget request for the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee, questioned Secretary of the Department of Education Miguel Cardona on the Department’s failure to implement the FAFSA Simplification Act, which has delayed students and families’ access to financial aid for college. 


Senator Collins co-sponsored the bipartisan FAFSA Simplification Act, which passed Congress in 2020, and required the Department of Education to roll out a new simplified FAFSA program by January 1, 2024.  Despite having three years to prepare, the application was only made available for borrowers for 30 minutes on December 30, 2023 and then one additional hour on December 31, 2023.  The application was then only accessible for sporadic periods until it became fully live on January 6, 2024.  Typically, this form is made available to students on October 1.  After the FAFSA went fully live, it was still plagued with issues, including delivering incorrect applicant data to colleges.


In January, Senator Collins joined a bicameral group in calling on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct an investigation into the Department of Education’s failure to implement the new FAFSA program.


During her opening remarks, Senator Collins said:


I have to tell you, Secretary Cardona, how disappointed I am in your leadershipWhat happened with the FAFSA system is simply inexcusable and inexplicable.  As our Ranking Member Senator Capito, has said, the Department had three years to implement the revisions, and then another year to simplify the revisions to the federal financial aid application. 


I have heard from countless families, students, financial aid counselors, and administrators who have expressed their extreme frustration with the systemAnd I believe the Department owes them an apology.  This wasn't something that was dropped on the Department at the last moment.  It goes back four years.  So, there was plenty of time to get this right.  And the fact is that students in my state have been up in the air about what would they do.  They don't know what package of assistance they're going to receive.  And as Senator Capito points out, May 1st is usually decision day, yet the colleges just got the information they needed yesterday.


During Q&A with Secretary Cardona, Senator Collins said:


Mr. Secretary, I want to ask you a very basic question, and that is, after all the time the Department had to implement the bill that Congress enacted to simplify the federal financial aid forms, why wasn't it ready when it went live?  I just don't understand why, given that the Department had had more than three years, given the fact that Congress was very specific on what should be done – no more 100 questions on the form, for example – what happened?


Secretary Cardona:


Senator, I do share the frustration you share.  Our kids deserve better, and we are working around the clock to make sure it improves.  We've had delays, we had issues with some of the coding that we had to make changes to, and, you know, it is an overhaul.  It's not just a new website, it's an overhaul with a new formula.  It required engaging with tax information differently.  So, look, there's no excuse, our students deserve better, and I'm committed to making sure the process works, to make sure that more students have access to higher education and to a simpler FAFSA – a FAFSA process that encourages families to engage, and gives students an opportunity for higher-ed.


Senator Collins continued:


I worked at a college in Maine, Husson University in Bangor, and I know how critical federal financial aid and other support are for students.  In many cases, it makes the difference between whether they go to college or not.  And this is particularly true with first-generation college students.  And back when I worked at Husson, the majority of students were first-generation.


One reason that I wanted to help Lamar Alexander and others simplify the process, is I heard so many complaints about it.  And the statistics that Senator Capito showed you about what's happening in West Virginia, I'm sure could be applied to the State of Maine.


So, the problem is that the ineptitude here has real life consequencesAnd I'm curious whether you considered testing the new system with a small group of schools to ensure that it worked before it went live?


Secretary Cardona:


I am in agreement with you, we have to get it right for our students.  And this is going to have an impact for generations.  And yes, the process did involve testing and getting information from colleges.  We've been in constant communication with financial aid directors across the country, with college presidents.  I've been in those conversations myself, to test out processes to hear from them, what needs adjustments, and we've been adjusting.  So, I recognize the strain that's put on colleges and financial aid offices, and they've bent over backwards to really meet students’ needs and we are appreciative of that, and we're listening to them as we're making decisions moving forward.