On Friday, April 14th, the U.S. Department of Education released new guidance on the 2024-2025 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) regarding youth who are self-supporting or at risk of homelessness. SchoolHouse Connection lauded the new guidance as a positive change and called on those assisting youth experiencing homelessness to review the guidance to ensure they can begin to work on implementation and spreading the knowledge to other colleagues and networks. This new guidance provides standardized and uniform definitions as it pertains to FAFSA classifications, expands and defines responsibilities and abilities of service providers, and reduces youth’s requirements to track down credentials and provides an avenue for student aid determined on a case-by-case basis.

The Dear Colleague letter defined four areas for youth who are at-risk who may receive assistance: unaccompanied, homeless, at risk of being homeless, and self-supporting. These updated definitions are more inclusive and align with those seen in the McKinney-Vento Act. The letter went on to provide a broader list of people who can make determinations on the youth’s status and limited the amount and type of information that could be requested from youths. The guidance also reminded practitioners that children fleeing abuse, threatening, or unsafe home environment could still be considered homeless irrespective of a parent’s desire to have them in the home.

The guidance takes an important step in meeting youth who are at-risk where they are and providing a path forward at a point in time that is often filled with despair and hopelessness. By reducing the red tape, requiring more from service providers while also enabling them, this guidance provides a lifeline and a chance for stability to many youths who have lost their earliest support system. Additional resources from SchoolHouse Connection include:

By Chris Bennett, Policy Intern