Last fall, as part of its efforts to modernize the financial aid process from application through repayment, the U.S. Department of Education announced a blueprint for its Next Generation Financial Services Environment. The enhancements will better serve both potential and current student loan borrowers and take full advantage of new technologies.
"This overhaul is long overdue," U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a statement last November. "Students and their families should be treated like the valued customers they are and should have access to the tools needed for success."
This October, the Department's Federal Student Aid office launched the myStudentAid mobile app. The app makes it possible for students and families to access the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA, on their smartphone. Students will be able to go back and forth from the mobile app to the desktop version as needed to complete the application.
Here are some things borrowers can expect as the Next Gen Financial Services Environment continues to improve.
The mobile app will make the FAFSA application more accessible to some borrowers who otherwise may not have access. The biggest measure of the myStudentAid app's impact will be in whether it leads to an increase in the FAFSA completion rate. Sometimes students don't have access to a computer to complete the FAFSA. Being able to complete the FAFSA on a smartphone will open more opportunities for borrowers who otherwise wouldn't have access.
According to FSA, students and parents may begin, complete and submit a new or renewal FAFSA form for the 2019-20 processing cycle. Users are offered a customized experience based on their role. The app has the same data protections as completing the FAFSA form through fafsa.gov, and the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is still available on the app.
In a future update, parents will be able to transfer information from a completed FAFSA form for one of their children into a new FAFSA form for another child. The timing for the launch of this feature is yet to be determined, according to the FSA website.
In addition to the mobile app, the FAFSA website was updated with new colors and redesigned to be mobile responsive earlier this year. This will benefit both new applicants and current student loan borrowers who complete their form using the mobile browser.
The FSA plans to make the student loan repayment system more straightforward. These changes, which will dictate how borrowers repay their student loans for decades to come, are planned to go into effect in 2019, according to the Center for American Progress. FSA plans to create a single U.S. Department of Education-branded website where borrowers can manage their accounts.
Currently, borrowers repay their student loans to one of the various private contractors, all who run their own websites and have different technology platforms. With so many different servicers and platforms, borrowers often face difficulty figuring out where to make their federal student loan payments.
With the implementation of one system, website, phone number and mailing address, it will be much easier for borrowers to determine where to make their loan payments.
The new tool will help students select a college by connecting the application with the College Scorecard. The College Scorecard is an online tool created by the Department that provides information about each college's cost, median salary after attending, graduation rate, employment rate, average amount borrowed, typical monthly loan payment and loan default rate.
When a student picks which colleges to send their FAFSA to, the app will show key Scorecard metrics for each institution. With a better understanding of potential costs for each college or university and the median salary after graduation, borrowers can make a more informed decision as they consider student loans as a way to fund their education. This way they do not end up with an insurmountable amount of student loan debt.
Overall, the various changes being made will ultimately make the FAFSA more accessible. For future updates from FSA about the app, be sure to check out the FSA website.
Having more advanced technology should enhance the experience borrowers have from start to finish when it comes to accessing student loans. New potential borrowers will have access to financial aid and federal student loans with the new mobile app, while current borrowers will experience a more streamlined renewal process and less confusion when it comes time to for repayment.