NASFAA Letter Encourages ED to Improve Efficiency, Accountability
NASFAA in a letter sent on Friday
encouraged the Department of Education (ED) to take steps to improve its efficiency, efficacy, and accountability with key stakeholders, including looking at new ways ED could engage with institutions and financial aid offices.
The letter, sent to ED’s Co-Chair of Agency Reform Task Force Joe Conaty, was in response to an executive order
issued by President Trump in March in which he asked the executive branch to identify ways it can improve the federal government’s efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability. The Department is using that as an opportunity to evaluate how it can best serve the needs of students, families, and educators, soliciting comments from the education community on how it can improve its work.
In his letter to Conaty, NASFAA President Justin Draeger offered suggestions for improvement in key areas, including new activities and functions ED should initiate.
Among NASFAA’s recommendations for that area is the suggestion that ED spend time on college campuses, sending its staff to institutions to “learn, observe, and participate in the day-to-day functions of the financial aid office.” Doing so “would be beneficial for both ED and institutions to occasionally have a Department presence from the policy development and implementation areas on campus in a non-compliance role,” Draeger wrote.
Other suggestions for new activities and functions ED should initiate include:
- Strengthening collaboration and outreach at the K-12 level by participating in “financial aid nights” and other community outreach events;
- Implementing an institutional ombudsman that would be “specifically focused on facilitating resolution of issues experienced by schools that normal channels have failed to address in a timely manner;” and
- Developing a formal advisory group of school stakeholders that would meet regularly and provide feedback and perspective to ED staff, while also serving as a sounding board for new ideas and policies.
The letter also included suggestions for how ED can improve its efficiency in meeting the needs of stakeholders, including by improving information-sharing efforts by having a formal policy regarding ED’s attendance at conferences hosted by state and regional financial aid associations. NASFAA also suggests that providing better cross-training and coordination between regional trainers, call center staff, and DC-based staff to ensure that accurate information is diseminated to stakeholders, as well as the establishment of Federal Student Aid (FSA) customer service benchmarks and targets.
ED could also streamline reporting systems, which would reduce duplication for institutions and “would greatly benefit schools by reducing administrative burden” and “have a positive impact on workflow at ED,” Draeger wrote in the letter.
As for how ED can best deliver education services and products needed by financial aid administrators, NASFAA suggests that ED improve the timing of the FAFSA Demo Site, which has not been done despite repeated requests to make the tool available earlier. NASFAA is requesting that ED re-evaluate the tool’s timing.
NASFAA also suggests that ED reexamine its philosophy around program reviews, and how they differ from audits. In his letter, Draeger noted that program reviews “should primarily be used to help improve operations, rather than act, as they do today, as vehicles to catch instances of noncompliance to impose fines and liabilities,” which is better served by the auditing process. “This approach would be far more helpful and productive for schools,” Drager wrote in the letter.
And finally, NASFAA highlighted recommendations to improve transparency at FSA that were included in a May 2017 NASFAA white paper
on the same topic. The recommendations from the white paper that were included in Friday’s letter include:
- Streamlining and consolidating all required reports on FSA’s website;
- Publicizing when reports are posted on FSA’s website;
- Collaborating with stakeholders to develop performance metrics for strategic goals;
- Establishing a robust customer satisfaction system, publicizing the results, and incorporating them into FSA’s performance metrics;
- Expanding the FSA Data Center to include more data, with public stakeholder input, while protecting student privacy and data security;
- Implementing the ability to query available data in FSA’s database;
- Requiring FSA to publicize more data on an annual basis; and
- Making all technical guides available to the public.
In addition to the letter sent by NASFAA, the American Council on Education also sent a letter
on the same topic, which NASFAA signed on to.
Publication Date: 8/7/2017