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College Board executives join FAFSA effort, raising eyebrows

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College Board executives join FAFSA effort, raising eyebrows

The mud has but to settle from this 12 months’s disastrous rollout of the brand new Free Utility for Federal Pupil Support. The U.S. Schooling Division remains to be fixing glitches, processing help varieties and dealing to spice up completion charges that lag 11 % behind final 12 months’s. However officers should additionally flip their consideration to subsequent 12 months’s type, which is ready to launch in just some months, they usually face extra strain than ever to make sure it arrives on time and able to use.

For that, they’re bringing in reinforcements.

Final month the division appointed Jeremy Singer, the longtime president of the Faculty Board, to be its first-ever FAFSA govt adviser. He’ll take momentary go away from the nonprofit to guide the shape’s rollout for the Workplace of Federal Pupil Support, a transfer made potential by the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, which permits federal companies and nongovernmental companions to share workers when wanted.

“FSA is making certain it has the expertise and capability wanted to proceed to enhance and implement main priorities, together with FAFSA,” an Schooling Division spokesperson wrote in an e mail. “Jeremy is working intently with the Division and FSA’s management and the FAFSA implementation group to strengthen inside methods and processes, drive innovation, and assess staffing wants.”

Now Singer is bringing a group of Faculty Board executives with him, together with Chief Data Officer Jeff Olson, who can also be becoming a member of by way of an IPA settlement. Olson’s position might be to “strengthen inside methods and processes and bolster technical capabilities,” in keeping with the spokesperson. The division can also be bringing on a number of different “expertise options consultants” from the Faculty Board, the spokesperson mentioned, together with “extra contractor sources.”

It’s been a very busy summer season for FSA. Along with FAFSA, officers are grappling with adjustments to the Biden administration’s pupil debt reduction and income-driven compensation plans, which have been waylaid by the judiciary. The company’s chief working officer, Richard Cordray, stepped down final month, leaving its prime management position vacant; deputy COO Denise Carter is main the workplace on an interim foundation.

There may be near-universal settlement in admissions and monetary help circles that the FSA wants all the assistance it could get after this 12 months’s fiasco, particularly with every part on its regulatory and coverage agenda. However its selection of cavalry has prompted combined reactions and raised questions on the way forward for the beleaguered company.

“I’m not making an attempt to disparage the folks going over from the Faculty Board … I’m certain they’re good and nice and succesful, and I hope they can assist, as a result of Lord is aware of the division wants it,” mentioned Amy Laitinen, senior director for larger training on the progressive coverage suppose tank New America. “However it’s definitely not supreme for the division to be counting on of us from a corporation with competing pursuits.”

Controversial Cavalry

The Faculty Board is finest recognized for proudly owning and administering the SAT and AP exams, amongst a slate of different academic and evaluation merchandise. However the elephant within the room is the Faculty Scholarship Service Profile, its non-public competitor to the FAFSA.

The CSS Profile is another help type required by over 300 larger ed establishments, which prices schools for membership and college students for submission. Most Profile faculties are wealthier non-public schools and enormous analysis universities, or enrollment-driven establishments that use it to calculate the optimum degree of institutional help wanted to spice up yield charges.

Singer’s defenders say his deep familiarity with the Profile is what makes him one of the best particular person for the FSA job: he has a decade of expertise managing a much less in style however nonetheless broadly used pupil help packaging software, and he and Olson carry a technical know-how that the division appeared to lack throughout final 12 months’s FAFSA rollout.

However some monetary help professionals and coverage consultants are frightened by the Profile connection. They word that Singer and Olson may return to the Faculty Board subsequent 12 months toting insider information of their predominant competitor, which may theoretically be used to undermine the FAFSA. They can even probably keep partially on the Faculty Board’s payroll whereas at FSA, since IPA agreements usually contain cost-sharing between federal and nonfederal accomplice companies; the division spokesperson didn’t reply questions on their particular pay preparations. Faculty Board has additionally illegally shared pupil information with firms like Google and Fb previously.

Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost for enrollment administration at Oregon State College, mentioned there are a number of crimson flags within the Faculty Board’s enterprise historical past for a federal company with competing pursuits and entry to a lot pupil data.

“This can be a actually extreme and troubling battle of curiosity,” Boeckenstedt mentioned. “There are a lot of organizations that would, and are in all probability wanting to, assist the division repair the brand new FAFSA … I’ve no religion that the Faculty Board is performing altruistically.”

Whereas Inside Greater Ed has not seen Singer’s or Olson’s contracts (although there’s a pending Freedom of Data Act request for them), the division spokesperson wrote in an e mail that strict measures forestall information and knowledge sharing from federal workers, together with contractors.

“Whereas on the Division and after he leaves, Jeremy might be topic to the stringent battle of curiosity provisions relevant to all former federal workers,” the spokesperson wrote. “He will be unable to carry again pupil information or data from the FAFSA or market the Faculty Board or its merchandise utilizing his position on the Division.”

On prime of the data-sharing concern, critics additionally fear that the federal government’s recruitment of Faculty Board workers may finally give the Profile a giant advertising enhance for brand new institutional clients who’re already receptive after the FAFSA’s disastrous previous 12 months.

“I feel it’s in all probability excellent strategically for the Faculty Board to have the ability to say, ‘The federal government needed to carry us in to repair their type, why not use ours?’” Laitinen mentioned. “It’s in all probability not nice that [the department] is feeding into that.”

A Faculty Board spokesperson declined to remark when requested about conflicts of curiosity, as a substitute pointing to a press launch praising Singer’s “willingness to serve.”

Studying Tea Leaves

Karen McCarthy, vice chairman of public coverage and federal relations on the Nationwide Affiliation of Pupil Monetary Support Directors, mentioned she’s heard from some frightened members concerning the unorthodox Faculty Board crossover. However with strain mounting and little time to waste earlier than the brand new type’s Oct. 1 deadline, she’s undecided there’s a greater different.

“We see the potential battle of curiosity issues … and I hope and assume there have been [nondisclosure agreements] signed,” she mentioned. “However if you happen to’re bringing in any person who must hit the bottom operating instantly, then somebody with expertise on the Profile makes loads of sense.”

McCarthy added that the CSS Profile additionally needed to regulate to the brand new federal help calculations and necessities final cycle, and that the Faculty Board appeared to have far fewer points than the division itself in making the pivot.

“I haven’t seen many complaints concerning the 2024–25 Profile rollout,” she mentioned. “It’s encouraging that the division acknowledged the necessity for out of doors assist … This was a humbling resolution for the FSA to make.”

Laitinen mentioned the federal government’s resolution to succeed in out to the Faculty Board appeared much less like a lesson in humility than a show of desperation—and an indication that the company has some severe soul-searching to do within the wake of this 12 months’s rollout.

“I perceive they’re making an attempt to place out a fireplace. Nevertheless it raises a query: Why was there a fireplace within the first place, and why are there no firefighters in-house who can cope with it?” Laitinen mentioned. “FSA has so many workers”—greater than 1,400 on workers, in keeping with the company’s web site—“so how is it that they don’t have this experience accessible in-house?”

That query is on the heart of the controversy round Singer’s hiring. The FSA is going through a reckoning from the FAFSA fallout, beginning with a “full-scale evaluate” that the Schooling Division launched in Might. No matter structural adjustments emerge may have vital implications for years to come back.

The division spokesperson mentioned Singer, Olson and different IPA contractors are stopgaps as they recruit extra everlasting IT professionals and pursue a “long-term modernization course of.” However some skeptics fear that the outsourcing is greater than an emergency measure and will exacerbate what they see because the FSA’s overreliance on costly and error-prone contractors.

“I don’t see this as a shake-up in any respect; a shake-up can be a long-term plan to plug up the holes and deal with what’s mistaken,” Laitinen mentioned. “It’s a nasty look to go to [the College Board], however greater than that I feel it bodes poorly for no matter beefing up the division is getting ready for internally … It’s completely fodder for people who wish to see much less federal funding and extra privatization.”

For a lot of monetary help professionals, that’s an issue for one more day. Proper now, the one standards for judging Singer and his group will include the FAFSA launch in October.

“We simply need subsequent 12 months to be higher,” McCarthy mentioned. “Whoever they should rent to do this, high-quality. Anyone.”

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