U.S. Department of Education Announces “Next Generation” FAFSA
The "Next Generation Financial Services Environment" will launch in 2018 and feature a mobile app for completing the FAFSA.
During the annual Federal Student Aid (FSA) Conference in November, FSA Chief Operating Officer Dr. A. Wayne Johnson and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the administration’s plan to modernize the federal student aid application and repayment process set to begin in 2018. A key feature of the planned “Next Generation Financial Services Environment” (Next Gen) is a new app that will allow students and their families to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) using a smartphone or other mobile device. In addition, the Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) is planning several technology changes intended to improve students’ financial aid experiences, including a more integrated StudentAid.gov and a single website for borrowers to repay their loans.
The national FAFSA completion rate has been on the rise for several years; however, low-income and first-generation students—many of whom attend community colleges-- continue to face obstacles to completing the form and accessing financial aid. According to analysis by the National College Access Network (NCAN), approximately 60% of high school seniors complete the FAFSA by graduation—a necessary step to receive federal grants and loans to pay for postsecondary education. Yet there is still room for improvement. Carrie Warick, NCAN Director of Policy and Advocacy, describes how the new mobile app can make completing the FAFSA easier for these students, “Many low-income students only have access to the internet in their high school or on their smartphones. Many do not have computers at home and likely don’t have wi-fi either. A mobile app makes it much easier for students to sit down with their parents to complete the form.”
Increasing mobile access and creating easier-to-navigate websites are much needed steps towards easing students’ experiences with financial aid; however, there are further steps FSA can take to improve the process. For example, it has been reported for the current FAFSA application cycle, the number of income verification requests has increased especially for low-income students with a zero-dollar expected family contribution. Income verification requests create a burden for financial aid administrators responsible for reaching out to families for additional documentation and often deter students and families from completing the process. FSA states they are working to fix the issue and attributes the increase in verifications to both the new October application start date and ongoing security concerns with the Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool. For the Next Gen of financial aid, FSA will need to make it a priority that changes to their technology do not create unintended obstacles for students most in need of financial aid services.
In addition to FSA’s plans for modernizing the financial aid process, as part of the PROSER Act, Congress has also proposed steps to modernize and simplify the FAFSA. For more information, read ACCT’s summary of the bill.
Allison Beer is senior policy analyst for the Association of Community College Trustees. She can be reached at email@example.com.