Starting next spring, students can apply for financial aid from their mobile phones.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced yesterday that a mobile app was coming for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, but didn’t specify a timeline.
Documents released by the Education Department today said the mobile app will be available in the spring, in time for the 2018 financial-aid application cycle.
The release of additional details was timed to coincide with a speech today by A. Wayne Johnson, the chief operating officer of the Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid, to financial-aid professionals gathered for a meeting in Orlando. DeVos used that meeting yesterday to unveil the broad outlines of changes coming to the FAFSA.
The mobile app is just one facet of the work envisioned by the department to create what it calls a “next generation financial services environment” for student borrowers. The aim is to make it easier to apply for financial aid, and improve the complex and disjointed experience of student borrowers. Currently, many needy students don’t apply, leaving more than $2 billion in aid unused.
When the new mobile app launches in the spring, FAFSA.gov—the site students currently use to apply for aid—will be integrated into StudentAid.gov, the Office of Federal Student Aid’s main online portal, so students can easily switch back and forth between computers and their phones to access financial aid information, using a platform called myStudentAid.
Within the next year or two, the department hopes to create one system that students would use for all financial-aid activities: applying for aid, tracking their spending, and working out repayment arrangements.
Students could use the platform to compare financial aid offers, manage loan payments, check credit scores, make peer-to-peer mobile payments, and even read college sports news, according to Politico.
To make applying for aid easier, the federal student aid office is working to reduce the number of questions on the FAFSA, currently about 130. But a reduction requires authorization from Congress. The FSA is developing a briefing document on this issue to submit to federal lawmakers, Inside Higher Ed reported.
The Federal Student Aid office has been researching best practices in loan servicing and plans to release a solicitation in the first half of 2018 for servicing student loans, according to the Education Department. Currently, loan servicing is handled by nine companies, each with its own websites and operating procedures.
“The result is nine distinct loan portfolios with different customer experiences as opposed to a single portfolio with a consistent experience for all borrowers,” the department said in a fact sheet about its planned changes.
As Inside Higher Ed notes, the department initially planned to have one contractor service all student loans but pulled that plan back after heavy criticism.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.