In December of 2020, Congress passed, and President Donald Trump signed changes to federal law to streamline the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), known as the FAFSA Simplification Act.
Among many changes, this legislation reduced the number of questions on the FAFSA, created a mechanism for connecting the FAFSA to the Internal Revenue Service financial information, and changed the federal financial aid eligibility methodology from the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to a new methodology known as Student Aid Index (SAI).
The changes were championed by former U.S. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, the then Chair of the Senate, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, who negotiated the change before retiring in 2020. Filling out the FAFSA is a critical requirement for economically disadvantaged students to qualify for federal student financial aid and loan programs. In addition, FAFSA is used by many states, including Wisconsin, to determine eligibility for state student aid programs.
The change from EFC to SAI in the new federal law will require amending Wisconsin State Statutes to ensure statutes align with federal law. Federal changes also will increase students’ aid awards. WAICU, the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System, and the tribal colleges have been meeting since the changes were enacted, which are slated to be implemented in the 2024-2025 school year.
The sectors also are working with Wisconsin legislators to update Wisconsin statutes, to ensure student aid formulas better align with the needs of today’s students, and to provide the added flexibility students require. The formula for the private, nonprofit sector for example, has been in state statutes since the 1970s.
The other higher education sectors are seeking similar modernizations. More than 30 percent of undergraduate students at WAICU institutions enter as transfer students and/or participate in evening and weekend programs, many at less than full-time.
Additionally, 28 percent of WAICU students are low-income as measured by federal Pell Grant eligibility. Flexible and adaptable financial aid policies will support students throughout their higher education journey.
These important changes help ensure that students will not run out of critical financial aid resources prior to completing their degrees.
Wisconsin faces workforce shortages in nearly every occupation. Wisconsin’s economic vitality is strengthened when students desiring higher education have the opportunity and financial resources to succeed throughout their college journey.