Department of Education launches financial aid hub

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In an effort to help students navigate federal loans, the U.S. Department of Education launched an online financial aid hub in December 2019.

The hub combines several federal financial aid websites for a more streamlined user experience, according to a press release from the Department of Education. Information such as types of federal student aid, loan counseling and repayment plans are now all available on a single website.

Alberto Betancourt, Department of Education spokesperson, said in an email that the enhanced website and supporting features are part of the Next Gen Federal Student Aid, or FSA, initiative, which is intended to “modernize” the technology and operations supporting federal student aid programs, products and services.

“Early on, we invested in understanding our customers’ pain points when applying for and repaying federal student aid,” Betancourt said in an email. “Many of the pain points we identified related to confusion about where customers could get accurate, personalized information about their eligibility and options for managing their federal student aid account.”

The Department of Education also launched several interactive resources for borrowers, according to the press release. Borrowers can reach loan service contact centers via a single phone number, which features an automated interactive voice, and users can switch between tasks on the internet and an app.

While individual campuses are unaffected by the hub’s launch, UC Berkeley is currently updating its Financial Aid and Scholarships website to direct students to the appropriate resources, according to an email from campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Varsha Sarveshwar said in an email that a consolidated portal for financial aid helps to eliminate confusion when applying for aid. Sarveshwar also expressed hope that a simpler website would encourage more high school students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

“I think it’s always a good thing to simplify and streamline information for students and their families,” Sarveshwar said in the email. “Many students, especially those who are first generation and/or from underrepresented communities of color, often struggle to navigate the complex world of higher education financial aid.”

New tools will be added to the website throughout the year, including a loan simulator, an enhanced public service loan forgiveness help tool and an annual Student Loan Acknowledgment to educate borrowers about loan terms and outstanding debt, according to an email from Betancourt.

Sarveshwar alleged, however, that the Trump administration has historically undermined students in regard to loan borrowing.

“It’s hard for me to give them much credit,” Sarveshwar said in an email.

Revati Thatte is a higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @revati_thatte.