“The Future of FSA is Upon Us”

November 29, 2017

By Kim Cook, Executive Director, and Carrie Warick, Director of Policy and Advocacy

In a bold vision laid out over two days at the 2017 Federal Student Aid Training Conference, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Chief Operating Officer Dr. A. Wayne Johnson outlined significant changes coming to the Office of Federal Student Aid in the next several years.

“This overhaul is long overdue,” DeVos said. “Students and their families should be treated like the valued customers they are and should have access to the tools needed for success. Today’s announcement is a significant first step in our commitment to improving the experiences students, parents and borrowers have with FSA and in bringing federal student aid programs into the 21st century.”

NCAN’s MorraLee Keller and Kim Cook, Florida College Access Network’s Laurie Meggesin, and College Crusade of Rhode Island’s Maria Carvalho met with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at the FSA Training Conference.

Calling for the Higher Education Act to start from a blank slate, DeVos gave a broad speech that ranged from the Trump Administration’s focus on job training and apprenticeships to announcing that the FAFSA would move to a mobile app. She pointed out that Federal Student Aid manages the largest consumer loan portfolio in the country, and said, “The goal is a customer experience that will rival Amazon or Apple’s Genius Bar.”

Using an amusing audio clip of the dial-up internet noise, Secretary DeVos said the FSA infrastructure was built when we all still used phone lines to surf the web. The new vision for FSA includes moving the FAFSA and other myStudentAid services, such as loan repayment, all onto a mobile app. 

A. Wayne Johnson, the leader of FSA, picked up this morning right where the secretary left off. “Starting today, FSA is changing – and changing in a good way,” he said. Stating that high school graduates complete the FAFSA at a rate of 58 percent, Johnson noted he would like to see that figure climb close to 100 percent. Further, everyone who has an aspiration for education beyond high school should complete the FAFSA to at least see their options, he said.

"We feel like our concerns have been heard and appreciate that FSA is putting students first in this endeavor," NCAN Executive Director Kim Cook said. "NCAN and our members have long advocated for a simpler FAFSA that will move the needle on college completion, and a mobile aid application will help achieve that end."

Johnson moved on to share the blueprint for FSA’s Next Generation (Next Gen) Financial Services Environment. This transition would change the alignment of contractors managing student loans and customer service, and move all services to a “mobile-first, mobile complete” experience. In the first half of 2018, FAFSA will move onto a mobile app called MyStudentAid, which will also include a loan repayment portal and ability to check your credit score, among other features. Starting in fall of 2018, StudentAid.gov and FAFSA.gov will be fully integrated, allowing applicants to switch between the web and mobile. The features were highlighted in a smartphone-esque video promo.

Beyond just services and user experience, Johnson also said that the Department of Education would like to see a simpler FAFSA that would make using the mobile app easier. He said the department has been engaging in conversations about how to best do this, mentioning both NCAN and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) for our work on the topic and our conversations with his team. 

Acknowledging the need for Congressional action, Johnson alluded to yesterday’s Politico report that the department has built a 36-question FAFSA. Secretary DeVos has also publicly stated her support for simplifying the FAFSA, commending yesterday’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing.

“Washington has been talking about simplifying the FAFSA for years, but now is the time for action,” she said. “Students and schools have demanded and truly deserve a better, simpler process.”

Simplifying the FAFSA to increase the number of students accessing financial aid is one of NCAN’s top advocacy goals. NCAN will continue to engage with leaders both in Congress and at the department to recommend the changes that will most benefit our students.

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