Education's student aid office serves as e-gov model

PHILADELPHIA'In 1998, Congress mandated that the Education Department's Federal Student Aid Office change the way it does business by focusing on metrics and results.

In a short six years, the office, which administers more than $60 billion in student loan programs to 13 million applicants annually, now is seen as a shining example of what the Office of Management and Budget hopes to accomplish with its e-government initiatives.

The office used Web and e-government technologies to put information and applications online, and personalize the college search, admissions and aid processes to make the entire procedure much less painful.

Terri Shaw, the office's chief operating officer, said yesterday that two examples of how the office has become a performance-based organization are the online application for federal student aid and the Student Aid Web site.

'We now are organized around the customer instead of programs,' Shaw said at the 24th annual Management of Change conference sponsored by the American Council for Technology. 'We transformed the aid process from paper to electronic and implemented e-business solutions for schools and our financial partners.'

Shaw said 78 percent of students applied for financial aid using the online application last year. By using the site, students didn't have fill out an application with 100 data elements by hand.

'Seventy-eight percent is a clear indicator that we are hitting the mark,' she said. 'Students will find out if they are eligible for aid in a day and they can update their information online, as well.'

The Student Aid Web site integrated information from multiple places about the lifecycle of the student's college experience from choosing a university to paying back student loans.

The portal, which the office launched in October, lets students customize folders to hold their research. It lets students search colleges by name or by certain criteria like geography or size and apply to those colleges online. The site includes a financial aid wizard to let students compare the costs of their choices side-by-side.

'We've simplified systems, integrated applications and reduced processing time from days to hours,' Shaw said.

She added that the office awarded a contract to Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas in November to integrate up to four back-end systems. The potential 10-year contract could save the office $1 billion through cost avoidance.

The office also is competing work between Accenture Ltd. and Pearson Government Solutions Inc. of Arlington, Va., to better integrate its front-end delivery systems. The competition is in a second stage and Shaw said the award is expected in the fall.

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