UPDATED U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced Tuesday that students will soon be able to use their mobile phones to apply for financial aid for college.
The move is the latest in a series of steps—stretching back into the Barack Obama administration—to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, the form students fill out to apply for federal college loans and grants. DeVos made the announcement today at a training conference for financial-aid professionals.
Research shows that reducing barriers in applying for financial aid increases the chances that students will go to college. The Obama administration took a series of steps to simplify the FAFSA, including reducing the number of questions, letting students automatically import tax data info it, making it available earlier, adding “skip logic,” which automatically skips certain questions depending on students’ answers, and allowing students to use tax information from an earlier year.
In her prepared remarks, DeVos cast the move to a mobile app as an improvement not just for students, but for financial-aid professionals. She said that the current approach “puts paperwork ahead of people” and robs them of time to do what’s really important: counsel students about ways to arrange college financing.
Noting in her speech that people can get home mortgages on their mobile phones now, DeVos said, “Why can’t it be that way for students? The answer is, it can!”
“You can order food, get a ride home, check your bank account, send money to a friend, or, as I’m told, even find your soulmate on your phone! The FAFSA should—at minimum—keep pace with these commonplace activities!”
DeVos said that she wants students to be able to complete the FAFSA on the phone, in one sitting. Her prepared remarks didn’t include a timeline for moving to the mobile FAFSA.
But she did say that the administration recognized that improved security would have to accompany that shift so students’ data are protected. Just a few months ago, the government announced new security measures in the wake of an attempted hack of the financial aid system.
The secretary also made a pitch for streamlining the maze of loan-servicers students have to deal with over the life of their loans, but she didn’t lay out details of what that would look like.
UPDATED Justin Draeger, the president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, welcomed the news of a mobile app for the FAFSA.
“It would be a very positive development,” he said. “Most people today are accessing the internet not via computer, but via mobile device. This has a lot of promise. I’m interested to see what the details are.”
Draeger said it would be great if, down the road, the FAFSA app could be expanded to serve as the main portal students could use to access all their financial-aid information. Right now, that information is scattered in various places online, he said, and much of it isn’t “mobile-accessible.”
UPDATED Federal lawmakers waded into the issue of FAFSA simplification on Capitol Hill today, too. The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is discussing changes to the FAFSA as it opens discussions about reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.
Senator Patty Murray of Washington state, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said in her opening remarks that simplifying the FAFSA is a must. But she said lawmakers must take a “comprehensive” approach to reworking the Higher Education Act, and that must include the rising cost of college, holding schools accountable for student success, ensuring safe learning spaces, and knocking down college barriers for working families, students of color, and students who are the first in their families to attend college.
DeVos was also scheduled to talk about simplifying the FAFSA when she visits Georgia State University today.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.