The annual Federal Student Aid (FSA) Training Conference wrapped up its second year of a virtual conference with Thursday's itinerary covering President Joe Biden’s higher education agenda and a number of technological updates aiming to better align online portals with the needs of financial aid professionals.
In opening remarks, Department of Education (ED) Under Secretary James Kvaal outlined the administration’s priorities for higher education. Largely echoing the message provided by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona during Wednesday’s session, Kvaal committed to addressing institutional needs surrounding the pandemic, combating issues with the growing student loan debt, and ensuring that the higher education sector addresses equity for all students.
Kvaal also provided insight into how institutions have utilized Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) funds by providing scholarships to at-risk students, addressing institutional health needs related to the pandemic, and making investments in electronic devices and services to ensure students had access to online learning, in addition to using the funding to prevent staff cuts.
Under Sec. Kvaal references @aceducation’s survey to show how HEERF funds were used by colleges:— FSA Conferences (@FSAconf) December 2, 2021
🏦 93% provided scholarships to at-risk students
👩⚕️ 88% met COVID-19 public health needs
🖥️ 80% provided electronic devices & online access
👩🏫 70% prevented staffing cuts#FSATC2021
Kvaal also noted that the administration was committed to doubling the maximum Pell Grant award and that the current framework of the Build Back Better (BBB) plan would be the first step to achieving that goal.
“We hope to take a second step when the annual budget is passed in December,” Kvaal said.
Congress is currently considering the BBB plan with more action likely in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, lawmakers are also sorting through the annual appropriations process, which is likely going to rely on another continuing resolution that will aim to keep the government operational through early 2022. While the administration may look to further increase the Pell Grant through this legislation, it could be difficult to spur congressional action as the calendar encroaches on election year politics.
In another session, FSA officials provided a walkthrough of recent and upcoming upgrades to the department’s StudentAid.gov and Mobile FAFSA App.
Attendees received a website demo which covered enhancements and a walkthrough of the MyFAFSA page. Here, presenters highlighted significant enhancements to the process, such as having the ability to add a school to the FAFSA form, increasing the page’s font size, as well as other design features to create a more consistent experience for users.
On the digital front, FSA also provided a presentation of the FSA Partner Connect page, which detailed the new designs of the Knowledge Center, including an improved search feature, subscription service, and FSA Handbook content.
In terms of additional updates, presenters teased impending releases slated for the summer of 2022, including a major redesign to the E-App and the ability to use digital signatures to improve user experience.
Publication Date: 12/3/2021