IECA Urges Colleges to Adjust Deadlines Due to FAFSA Delays

The US Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office released an update this week announcing that the earliest the Department will begin transmitting FAFSA applicant information to schools and state agencies is the first half of March.

We are deeply concerned by the impact this further delay will have on students and families who are depending on financial aid offers in order to pursue their higher education goals. This disruption to the typical enrollment timeline is certain to create increased anxiety for all students depending on some sort of financial aid, especially low-income students navigating this already stressful and complex process.

We appreciate that some colleges and universities are already delaying their May 1 decision deadlines and urge that all follow suit in order to allow adequate time for students to weigh their offers.

IECA will continue to bring our members the latest information on changes to the FAFSA rollout, and how students and families will be impacted. Members can access our recorded webinar on the new FAFSA, join and follow discussions on the Member Network, and bring their questions to upcoming monthly member roundtables. We encourage you to continue to stay informed and patient during this challenging process, and to advise your client-families to do the same.

In early March, IECA leadership will meet with legislators on Capitol Hill for our second annual advocacy event. We will advocate for greater clarity in the financial aid award process through the standardization of college financial aid offers proposed in the Understanding the True Cost of College Act. We will also urge legislators to consider the challenges faced by students and families imposed by the new FAFSA rollout.

We will continue to advocate for the independent educational consulting profession and the best interests of our members, students, and families.

IECA Advocates for Standardizing College Financial Aid Offers

IECA supports standardizing college financial aid offers. The Understanding the True Cost of College Act introduced by Young Kim (R-CA) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) requires standard terminology and offer formats to assist colleges and universities, students and their families, secondary school and postsecondary counselors, and nonprofit consumer groups. IECA believes that financial aid transparency is a step toward greater access and opportunity for all students. We back legislation that provides financial aid clarity.

The call to standardize financial aid offers is not new. Mark Kantrowitz wrote about this topic in a 2007 article in Inside Higher Ed. In 2012 and 2013, a group of bipartisan senators introduced legislation to standardize student aid offers. Those senators included Tom Harkin, Marco Rubio, and Charles Grassley. Senator Grassley introduced Understanding the True Cost of College Act in 2019 with Tina Smith (D-MN) and Joni Ernst (R-IA).

There are other bills and a recently created task force to study the issue. IECA would like to see all higher education institutions use the same template so that students can easily compare offers. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in early December 2022, after studying a sample of offers from 176 colleges and universities, that most were not using the recommended template from the Department of Education. The GAO recommends that Congress pass legislation that would include best practices for colleges regarding financial aid offers. Young Kim’s office has said that her legislation will be reintroduced this spring.

IECA believes it is time to require standardization. To join this effort, contact your representatives and let them know that financial aid transparency is an important issue to our college-going community and it is time to move forward by reintroducing and approving the True Cost of College Act.

Introducing the AXS Companion to the Common Application

The AXS Companion is now available for college-bound students to use!

College enrollment continues to decline while barriers for under-resourced students grow—but the AXS Companion to Common App, a new initiative by IECA, in partnership with Oregon State University, aims to reverse this trend by supporting these students as they begin their college journey.

Applying to college is already a complex and often stressful process, and first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students of color have faced even greater hurdles to college during the pandemic: reduced or no access to college and school counselors; limited opportunities to access information and resources due to school closures; and a lack of familiarity with the US college and financial aid application processes within their families.

According to Common App, approximately one-third of their million-plus annual applicants are first-generation students. These students are more likely to create Common App accounts without submitting applications because they “often lack familial and school-based guidance on how to navigate the complex admission waters,” according to a recent article on BestColleges.com. It continues: “Just last year, about 700,000 seniors who opened Common App accounts never completed an application.”

Seeing this disparity in access to higher education, a group of IECA members set out to make a change. The result is the AXS Companion, a free online resource that aims to improve access and clarity for under-resourced students who lack college counseling support. Through detailed videos, the AXS Companion walks students through each step of Common App from beginning to end. Alternatively, students can watch an individual section’s videos to understand how to best respond to that section based on their circumstances.

View this video to see samples of the AXS Companion and to learn more about the project:

How the Project Came About

Several years ago, Maite Halley, an IECA member who has been a leader in the association in several capacities, envisioned this project as live workshops to support under-resourced communities. During COVID-19, Marilyn O’Toole, IECA member and liaison to Common App, asked Common App leadership if IECA members could pivot and develop step-by-step videos for the initiative instead.

With Common App’s approval, O’Toole then engaged Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost at Oregon State University to discuss solutions to store and organize the video resources. This evolved into the collaborative framework of Oregon State University Ecampus building the platform, with IECA providing the content.

Left to right, clockwise: IECA members Jeffy Levy, Marilyn O'Toole, Pat Smith, Ibrahim Firat, Sylvia Jackman, Louise Franklin, and Jennie Kent.

Over the last eight months, many IECA members have worked tirelessly on this project, including: Ibrahim Firat, Louise Franklin, Carolyn Gelderman, Anne Holmdahl, Sylvia Jackman, Amy Jasper, Jennie Kent, Jeff Levy, Janae McCullough-Boyd, Marilyn O’Toole, Chantal Paiewonksy, Veena Rao, Pat Smith, and Juan Camilo Tamayo. These dedicated members produced the project content, which included writing and editing curriculum and scripts, as well as recording audio and video for 50+ modules for each section of Common App. Additionally, they called on experts in various fields to support their efforts, and created modules that provide financial aid guidance, essay suggestions, and admissions officers’ advice. The project creators chose the name The AXS Companion because of the double entendre: improving student access through the collaborative axis of higher education and IECA. The AXS Companion was introduced at the IECA 2022 Spring Conference in Philadelphia and is launching on September 1, 2022.

IECA is grateful to the members of the Oregon State University Ecampus who trained our colleagues to audio and visually record each section and then edited hours of their recordings, adding animation to make the directions and guidance clear. In addition, thank you to the engineers, graphic designers, animators, and project managers who have worked tirelessly to create this invaluable resource. 

Pictured above (left to right, clockwise): IECA members Jeffy Levy, Marilyn O’Toole, Pat Smith, Ibrahim Firat, Sylvia Jackman, Louise Franklin, and Jennie Kent.

Debunking Need-Based and Merit Aid Myths

By Sandra M. Moore, MA, IECA (NY)

Imagine this scenario: you’re leisurely surfing Facebook when you notice that one of your friends has posted a frantic alert: “Beware of the ABC virus that’s chewing up mass quantities of emails from coast to coast. Do NOT open messages that include in the subject line any combination of the letters a, b, or c.”