Alexander: Applying for Federal Aid for College Should Be As Simple As Buying A Plane Ticket on Your Phone or a Book with One Click

Posted on June 5, 2018

WASHINGTOND.C., June 5, 2018 —Senate education Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today praised Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ request for $50 million to modernize how students apply for, manage, and repay their federal student loans.

“If you can buy an airplane ticket on your smartphone and a book with one click on Amazon, a student should to be able to use his or her smartphone to find out how much scholarship and grant aid they might be eligible for or how much they have left to repay,” Alexander said. “The federal government doesn’t have a very good track record with innovative technology -- and the Obamacare exchanges are a good example of that -- but there’s no reason government can’t do it. I am glad to see Secretary DeVos is moving forward on a way to modernize how students and families apply for and pay back their federal student loans.”

Alexander made his comments at today’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.

You can read the full transcript below or watch video of the hearing here.

Senator Alexander: Under the new Every Student Succeeds Act, replacing No Child Left Behind, every state submits a plan to you for approval in order to receive over $18 billion of federal funding for Titles I, II and IV. I have some questions on that because it’s been suggested by some, not me, that you’re not following the law in approving those plans. How many state plans have been approved so far?

Secretary DeVos: Forty six state plans.

Senator Alexander: Do you believe it is a requirement of the law that states collect, report and use data on the performance of “all students “and “each subgroup of students”?

Secretary DeVos: Yes, indeed.

Senator Alexander: Do all the state plans that you have approved thus far propose to look at data from “all students” and “each subgroup of students”?

Secretary DeVos: Yes, indeed.

Senator Alexander: Do you believe it is a requirement of the law that states identify schools with “consistently underperforming subgroups”?

Secretary DeVos: Yes, indeed.

Senator Alexander: After the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, Secretary Duncan reportedly said, “Candidly, our lawyers at the Department of Education are much smarter than many of the folks who are working on this bill.” Are any of those smart lawyers still at your department?

Secretary DeVos: Indeed, they are. Probably most of them.

Senator Alexander: Do those smart lawyers agree that the plans you approved meet all the requirements of the law?

Secretary DeVos: They do.

Senator Alexander: Thank you Madam Secretary. Now let me ask you this. It seems we've had a lot of discussion in our authorizing committee about trying to make it simpler for students to apply for, and pay back where they need to, their federal student aid -- $100 billion in loans each year, $30 or so billion in Pell grants. It seems to me that applying for federal aid for college should be as simple as buying a plane ticket on your phone or buying a book with one click. I mean, this [cell phone] has been invented and we use it for all sorts of things now. You have asked for $50 million in the budget in order to modernize the system by which students apply for and pay back their federal financial aid. What can you tell us about that? How do you plan to spend the money and why do you think you'll be successful doing this when we were so unsuccessful in technology when we dealt with the Obamacare exchanges, which turned into a big mess.

Secretary DeVos: Thanks Senator for that question. I'm really excited about the effort to modernize federal student aid, both the process and the experience. We believe that students should have a world class experience when applying for and then subsequently paying down their student loans. And the framework and infrastructure for this has not been modernized and has not been… It's been sort of patched over the last 20 some years. And so our approach is to completely restructure and make that experience one that will be seamless for students, one that we can complete the Federal Student Aid Application on your smartphone. And, again, have the world class experience that we've come to expect in every other area of life. The confidence I have in being able to do that is that we have the right leadership in place to be able to ensure…

Senator Alexander: Who is that? Why do you think that?

Secretary DeVos: Well, we have Dr. Wayne Johnson, who comes from the financial services field with much experience and lots of entrepreneurial activity in that field. In fact…

Senator Alexander: Has he ever done anything like this before?

Secretary DeVos: He has indeed. Some of you may recall years ago, when you get new credit cards in the mail, they'd come without an activation code because that was just how it was done and strangely enough, many of those cards disappeared in the process of getting from the origination point to your mailbox. Well, he developed the 1-800 number that now, I mean now we just call or just go online to activate, but the 800 number was his invention and it would become ubiquitous across the financial services industry. So very forward thinking, and a very deep knowledge of that field and that process and that experience. So we are committed to having the first steps completed for a pilot test in July of this year and we'll be able to in the fall, hopefully by October 1st, have the full thing being able to roll out so that student aid applications for the next fiscal or the next school year, will be able to be completed online and in one sitting.