Education Department Outlines 5-Year Plan for Student Aid

This fall, the Education Department released a five-year strategic plan for improving federal financial aid for college students. The plan includes reaching out to more students, simplifying the application process and stepping up efforts to reduce fraud.

Financial Aid

A New Direction for FSA

Last spring, Congress passed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, which, among many other things, removed the middle man from federal student loans. The Federal Student Aid (FSA) office cites this increased role in direct lending, as well as a growing need for student aid as college costs climb, as the impetus for developing a new five-year strategic plan.

In order to better deliver on its 'mission of helping Americans to pay for higher education,' FSA hopes to improve the efficiency of the aid process, take a more active role in shaping funding institutions and increase outreach and proactive efforts to reach students and their families.

As part of the new plan, FSA rewrote its mission, vision and core values. The mission statement is now 'Funding America's Future, One Student at a Time,' and the agency is highlighting six core values:

  • Integrity
  • Customer Service
  • Excellence
  • Respect
  • Stewardship
  • Teamwork

College Funding

Aiming High

FSA's vision statement is also quite ambitious, but necessary given the central role in student funding that the federal government is now playing with direct lending: 'To be the most trusted and reliable source of student financial aid, information and services in the nation.'

In order to achieve this vision, FSA has laid out five strategic goals, as well as objectives to meet those goals.

1. Provide superior service and information to students and borrowers.

In order to achieve 'superior service,' FSA plans to enhance its customer service role, improve data collection and analysis and gather and distribute cost-benefit information on postsecondary programs and funding options. The agency also plans to make federal aid more widely available by identifying students who need financial assistance and reaching out to them. The plan highlights the need to assist nontraditional students such as underrepresented minorities and working adults, who are essential to reach in the effort to meet Obama's college completion goals.

2. Work to ensure that all participants in the system of postsecondary education funding serve the interests of students, from policy to delivery.

This includes improving support and communications for both schools and financial partners, providing data and ideas to policymakers involved in education fundraising and supporting institutions through the process of transitioning into entirely direct federal lending.

3. Develop efficient processes and effective capabilities that are among the best in the public and private sectors.

How many students haven't wished financial aid was more efficient? Meeting this goal includes delivering funds promptly and accurately, strengthening FSA's information technology (IT) functions and improving a range of organizational and logistical processes.

4. Ensure program integrity and safeguard taxpayers' interests.

This goal makes an oblique reference to the current controversy over aggressive recruiting practices at many for-profit institutions. Among other things, recruiters at some of these institutions have been accused of defrauding the federal financial aid system by encouraging applicants to falsify documents. Given the steep costs of higher education and widespread concern over government spending, these accusations have set off a larger debate over responsible use of taxpayer funds in the federal financial aid program.

So FSA has set out to 'improve quality control and reduce errors, waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement' among schools and financial institutions. The agency also plans to provide greater transparency to taxpayers about portfolio risk exposure in the aid program.

5. Strengthen FSA's performance culture and become one of the best places to work in the federal government.

The agency's final goal is focused on internal improvements. It hopes to attract and retain 'human capital' and develop a 'student-centric culture' among managers and employees.

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