StudentAid.gov: Improving the College Financing Experience

student aid 4Guest post by Brenda Wensil, Chief Customer Experience Officer for Federal Student Aid (FSA).  Established in late 2010, FSA’s Customer Experience Office is responsible for identifying, measuring and reporting customer expectations and satisfaction with the financial aid services and products offered at Federal Student Aid. 

The launch of StudentAid.gov in July 2012, by Federal Student Aid (FSA), part of the U.S. Department of Education, not only consolidated content from 14+ sites into one and retired five Web portals. It also saved taxpayers $1.6 million in the process.

FSA is the largest provider of student financial aid, providing more than $150 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study funds to help more than 15 million students pay for college or career school. FSA interacts with citizens on a daily basis through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM) and the servicing of federal student loans. Over the past few years, we have refocused many of our efforts to be more customer-centric, garnering a greater understanding of our customers’ perception of service and identifying ways to improve satisfaction.

As we began our customer-focused journey, we quickly realized that one of the areas most confusing for customers was the fact that we had separate Web sites–all FSA branded–geared to the needs of different audiences. Essentially, whenever a new law was passed or a new Executive Order issued, we created a website.

At our high water mark, we had 14 separate student-facing websites (see figure #1) containing federal financial aid information!

This forced students, parents and influencers to weed through multiple websites, with duplicative information, that weren’t exactly written in a way they could understand. For anyone who’s ever filled out the FAFSA or taken out a federal student loan, you know this process can be overwhelming as it is, so this was a problem we needed to immediately tackle.

We launched what we now call “The Integrated Student Experience (ISE)” Project. The plan for this multiphase effort is to offer a one-stop-shop where students and families can access federal student aid information, apply for federal aid, repay student loans, and navigate the college decision-making process. Great idea, right? However, we quickly learned we needed a little ingenuity, creativity, and luck since our meager resources were dedicated to “keeping the trains moving” rather than building something new. Where we lacked in financial resources, we were rich in innovative, creative, and motivated people who wanted to make a better experience for the students we serve. We challenged the ISE team to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to make this happen with little to no resources.

They did just that and more! We pulled together a small group of writers, developers, mobile experts, project managers, technology experts and others who were passionate about this project. In just a few months, they executed the first phase of the project by launching StudentAid.gov one year ago.

StudentAid.gov (see figure #2) simplified and streamlined our Web presence and standardized our Web content to a single, easy to understand voice. Available in English and Spanish, and fully accessible on smart phones and tablets, the website:

  • combines content and interactive tools from several websites
  • features instructional videos and infographics to help answer frequent questions about financial aid
  • integrates our federal student aid social media resources, including FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, into the site.

With these enhancements, the new site provides more options for students and families to not only learn about student aid, but also serve as a platform for engagement and customer service.

Check back  because in our next post, we’re going to share what we’ve learned from the past year and what we’re working on for 2014.

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