DeVos: FAFSA mobile app, digital makeover coming soon


College students will soon have the option to fill out and file their federal aid applications through a mobile app on their phones, according to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form will be simplified, modernized and completely made over, if DeVos has her way.

Addressing an audience of financial aid professionals at the Federal Student Aid Training Conference in Orlando, Florida, DeVos noted that, in other industries, “a few swipes and taps on a phone” is now all it takes to complete a complex process.

“Why can’t it be that way for students?” she said Tuesday. “The answer is, it can.”

But the problem, she argued, is the country’s financial aid infrastructure is “stuck” in the past — specifically, at a time when Americans were still using dial-up internet, which happened to be when the current online portal was built.

“Think of the FAFSA: there is no reason completing it can’t be simpler and more consumer-friendly. Unfortunately, it’s anything but,” DeVos told conference attendees. “How do you think this looks to an 18 year old? And does this even remotely look like it belongs in the 21st century?”

For years, students and their families have complained that the federal student aid application is lengthy, cumbersome and unintuitive. And, after talking directly with students who have filed FAFSA forms, DeVos called their experiences “far from world-class and far from acceptable.”

“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,” she said. “The FAFSA should — at minimum — keep pace with these commonplace activities.”

The Education Department has tasked its Federal Student Aid (FSA) office, led by Wayne Johnson, with revamping office operations and processes. The ultimate goal, DeVos said, is to create a “customer experience that will rival Amazon or Apple’s Genius Bar — one that better serves students and taxpayers.”

On Wednesday, the Education Department announced that the first of many changes will come in spring 2018, when it plans to roll out the FAFSA mobile app. The “mobile-first, mobile-complete” version of the application is an attempt to make the FAFSA more accessible to low-income students, who complete the form at lower rates than any other demographic.

The mobile app will allow students to fill out and submit the FAFSA form from their phones — or to switch between mobile and web as they work through the application, if that’s what they choose, department officials said.

As part of the improved “customer experience” at FSA, students should also have the option to communicate with loan experts and student aid advisers via text and instant message for as long as they have the loans, DeVos said.

“Every facet of our approach must be student-centric, easier, more modernized, more customized, more flexible and more affordable,” she said.

In her keynote, she also suggested the department’s renewed commitment to cybersecurity and protecting sensitive student data.

“This is a responsibility the department has neglected for too long,” she said. “We are making marked improvements because there are serious and ever-iterating threats.”