Revamped student loan site is a hit

A redesigned Education Department Web site has boosted traffic and eased the process of applying for student financial aid.

Accenture and the department's Office of Student Financial Assistance re-launched the Free Application for Federal Student Aid site (fafsa.ed.gov) Jan. 1, and the site registered a 59 percent increase in traffic during the first month.

"It's faster, cheaper and easier," said Steven Shane, a partner at Accenture.

Six million students are expected to file online this year — 2 million more than in 2001. That projection translates to three out of every five applications, reducing paperwork, staff time and, ultimately, cost.

The site features a new design, how-to worksheets and an option to print a student aid report. A security measure also prevents the submission of duplicate applications.

Another boost to user-friendliness is the ability to save information while an applicant, for instance, finds the answer to a question or locates a tax document.

"It was horrible," Shane said of not being able to set aside a partially completed form.

With an improved technical architecture and fewer servers, the site is faster and cheaper to operate, he added.

In September 1999, Education awarded Accenture a share-in-savings contract, estimated at $193 million over five years, to modernize the department's financial assistance office.

Many other projects are in the works, including a single sign-on for schools to access various aid systems.

"On the horizon, we're dramatically going after redundant data," Shane said.

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