Summary: 1996-97 FAFSA Processing - Announcement #8
Author: ODAS - Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary - SFA
Announcement #8 - March 13, 1996
1996-97 FAFSA Processing
Dear Financial Aid Administrator,
I am writing to provide you with the eighth message in our continuing
updates on 1996-97 FAFSA processing. All of us in the U.S.
Department of Education recognize the hardships to students and
schools resulting from the processing delays. We are also aware
that some of you may believe the Department has not provided all
the facts concerning the problems you are experiencing. The
purpose of my communication is to explain in fuller detail the
nature of our problem, the current status, our solutions, and what
we have accomplished to date. We remain confident that we will
meet the goals established in Secretary Riley's letter to the
community last week.
Processing of paper 1996-97 FAFSAs is delayed for two reasons.
First, the two government shutdowns, coupled with a January
blizzard, caused us to lose twenty-one critical working days.
While our private contractors worked during this time, there were
no government employees to assist in system start-up and testing.
As a result, system sign-off took place on February 2, 1996 --
seventeen days later than last year. Second, our Multiple Data
Entry (MDE) processors experienced technical difficulties with
hardware and software. While such technical difficulties are not
unusual, the frequency and timing of the problems has contributed
to processing delays.
As of yesterday, March 11, our contractors have received
approximately 2.6 million paper FAFSAs and paper renewal FAFSAs
from entering freshmen (40 percent) and continuing students (60
percent). We have processed over 560,000 individual student
records, or 21 percent of the applications. Approximately one
million applications, or 39 percent, are delayed beyond the normal
fourteen day cycle and slightly more than one million applications,
or 40 percent, were filed within the last fourteen days and are
still within normal processing times. The 560,000 student records
we processed have resulted in over one million Institutional Student
Information Records (ISIRs)being created and sent, as many students
list more than one school on their applications. In the future we
will continue to report both the number of applications processed and
the number of ISIRs sent.
Processing the 1996-97 FAFSA is the Department's highest priority
and we have developed a three-point strategy to address this
problem. Our goals are to: eliminate all delays in processing and
return to processing applications within normal processing time as
soon as possible; increase use of electronic processing by
remaining 1996-97 applicants; and implement a nationwide
communications campaign to alert the public and provide prompt
To date the accomplishments of the Department of Education and our
private contractors include the following:
* Stabilized image-based processing at MDEs
* Developed and implemented coherent plan of action
to meet production requirements
- created additional processing capacity
- added a third processing site using key
- hired more subcontractors
- expanded to new work sites
- set-up third shifts at existing sites
- authorized overtime
* Mailed 25,000 FAFSA Express disks to high schools
and TRIO programs
* Increased telephone capacity at the Federal
Student Aid Information Center by 300 percent
I would also like to clarify any misunderstanding concerning FAFSA
Express. FAFSA Express is not the solution to our current problem.
However, electronic processing -- which includes EDExpress and
FAFSA Express -- will account for 40 percent of all FAFSAs we
receive this year, or four million of the ten million. Electronic
processing is faster for all parties, cheaper for the federal
government, and results in fewer corrections because of the edit
features. EDExpress was designed for schools, with optional
student or financial aid administrator entry. On the other hand,
FAFSA Express is designed for use by a family in their home or in
a library or high school guidance counselor's office.
At the time we recommended the use of FAFSA Express, we were
unaware of one development associated with the processing of the
signature page. As a result of the continuing resolution enacted
by Congress in late January, we had to reprogram all the systems to
compute the anticipated Pell Grant maximum of $2440 and the new
expected family contributions. The programming for the compute
feature of the Central Processing System was accomplished in four
days. However, the reprogramming of the subsystems takes a month,
resulting in a delay in starting the history corrections. Since
the FAFSA Express signature page is processed as a correction, the
delay in bringing up history corrections has caused a delay in
As of March 11 we have less than 2,000 FAFSA Express records. We
expect that history corrections will be running on March 15 and the
FAFSA signature pages will be processed immediately after start-up.
This will mean that FAFSA Express will have a 72 hour turn-around
time. For this reason, we are still positive about the benefits of
FAFSA Express if it is used for the purposes for which it was
We have also acted on other concerns raised concerning FAFSA
processing. We take all these comments seriously, do the necessary
research and trouble-shooting, and share our findings with you.
For example, we added the approximately 40 missing schools to the
FAFSA Express listing before mailing the 25,000 FAFSA Express disks
to high schools. We just posted a BBS notice concerning some minor
problems with SARs (see announcement #7). None of these problems affect
the calculated EFC reported on the SARs. We have also received
complaints about the amount of Direct Loans reported on SARs. This
is a technical problem with the reporting of Direct Loans to NSLDS
which creates a duplicate loan on NSLDS. The problem has been
isolated and we are in the process of fixing it.
We hope that you will continue to notify us if you discover issues
of concern to you or your colleagues. Please call our Customer
Support team at (800) 433-7327 to report these issues.
Once a week, in addition to regular announcements, you will find a
direct communication from me on the BBS. In the meantime, we thank
you for your patience and understanding which have enabled us to
make major strides in the past few weeks in solving this problem.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for
Student Financial Assistance Programs