FAFSA application

Arkansas eases students' path to college financial aid

The Arkansas Department of Education wanted to create a system that would ease high school students’ path to higher education by providing guidance on and better information about college financial aid.

Honorable Mention

2012 GCN Awards

The GCN awards honor federal, state and local government IT projects and management teams for their ingenuity, organizational skill and contribution to the public. This project is one of 10 honorable mention winners. Read more about the top agency projects and executive award winners.

So state education and technology officials created “YOUniversal,” a financial aid system that helps students determine scholarship eligibility and streamlines the financial assistance application process. The system consolidates into one unified database 21 programs and processes from different governmental agencies including the federal government FASFA application process, Arkansas Department of Education TRIAND data for student transcripts, and higher education institutions’ student enrollment verification and financial aid awards. The result is one user friendly application tool that takes Arkansas students, parents and counselors through a series of questions and returns a list of qualifying scholarships.

The system was created originally in .Net and was then modified for mobile in .Net. No technology change was needed to accomplish the goals. Because the application is hosted and maintained by the Network Manager for the state of Arkansas, it benefits from the accessibility, security and privacy policies that are standard for Arkansas State information technology. The extranet environment has a work-flow process and role-based authentication that allows users with different access rights to easily add, delete, view and edit their information. It was soon discovered that a large percentage of users were accessing the site from a mobile device and so a mobile version of the site was created as well as apps available in the iTunes, Android and Windows 7 app stores.

To date, the system has enrolled over 88,394 users who have submitted almost 200,000 scholarship applications. Around 4 percent of the over 400,000 visitors to the site have used the new mobile interface. In addition the state Education Department has realized significant savings in administrative work as the system has automated many of the manual functions previously performed by disparate systems.

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