WASHINGTON (AP) — College students will soon be able to file their applications for federal student aid through a mobile app, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday.
Speaking at a conference of student aid professionals in Orlando, Florida, DeVos said the Free Application for Federal Student Aid should "keep pace" with an era in which people commonly order food, get a ride, transfer money and find romantic partners with apps.
She made the bold claim that "the goal is a customer experience that will rival Amazon or Apple's Genius Bar."
Students and parents have long complained that the current federal student aid form is too long and cumbersome: 10 pages, including instructions. The procedure was further complicated this year when security and privacy concerns forced the government to take down an online data retrieval tool that automatically populated the form with a student's IRS data. The tool went up again this fall.
DeVos said the changes also envision enhancing cybersecurity to protect personal data. "Overall, the next generation system will be the most significant change to the student aid process ever."
Shortly after DeVos spoke, the Senate committee overseeing education held a hearing on simplifying the application process.
Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, told the panel that it is important to strike a balance while revising the application form. "Put more simply, the challenge before us it to put together an application that is as simple as possible but yet allows us to distinguish the truly needy from those who are not," Draeger said.
Draeger added that the process would be made easier if financial information that the government has is automatically populated on the form.
Elaine Genise Williams, a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, who was homeless in her youth, told the committee that the federal student aid process was "my number one hurdle in completing my education." She suggested it should not require homeless students to have their status re-determined every year, because it is a major burden and adds to trauma. She also called for reducing the requirements to prove that a youth is homeless or unaccompanied. Finally, she called for requiring colleges and universities to designate a specific employee to deal with homeless students.