Big data

Education data could smooth financial aid applications

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The Obama administration plans to open up another big dataset from the Education Department that universities could use to create apps that would help college students more efficiently apply for financial aid.

The initiative was unveiled by the White House, the departments of Education and Treasury, and the General Services Administration at an Education Datapalooza conference on Jan 15.

The Education Department has issued a request for information to gather ideas and get feedback on potential development of application programming interfaces (APIs) that tap education data, department programs and frequently used forms, James Sanders, presidential innovation fellow for open-data initiatives at Education, told FCW.

One key set of data mentioned in the RFI relates to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, Sanders said.

Active and prospective college students prepare and file FAFSA forms every year to determine if they qualify for financial aid, including Pell Grants, federal student loans and work-study programs. The annual exercise can be a chore for students and parents.

Opening up FAFSA data would give developers the opportunity to create apps that would make it easier and more efficient for students to tailor their financial aid requests, similar to the way third-party tax preparers file individual returns for their customers with the IRS, Sanders said.

Administration officials said the initiative builds on existing efforts to use APIs to give the public access to the National Center for Education Statistics' Common Core of Data and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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