FAFSA grows in popularity

Approximately four million out of 10 million students used the Free Application For Student Aid online last year. This year that number is expected to increase to six million. To accommodate the increase of users, the FAFSA Web site was updated.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Student Financial Assistance and a company called Accenture, which is a technology consultant, have teamed up to modernize the FAFSA Web site.

Steve Shane, an Accenture partner for the Department of Education, said the department expects this year to be one of the busiest financial aid seasons in at least a decade.

“The reason for the increase in financial aid applications is because, demographically, more people going back to school to acquire new skills,” Shane said. “There are increases all across the board, and more people are looking for aid.”

Shane said Web-based financial aid is becoming the dominant form of delivery because it is a natural process. Shane said that three major improvements have been made to simplify and speed up the financial aid process.

One improvement is students can now save their FAFSA information on public computers whereas before the information had to be saved on a private computer for security reasons. Shane said since students can return to the saved information, the Web site is easier to navigate, and fewer mistakes are made. And because all information is electronic, results can be sent immediately to the student’s e-mail address.

Shane said the new Web site is more accessible and is similar in appearance to other Web sites such as Yahoo. Another improvement is that Accenture can issue personal identification numbers over the web quickly, whereas before, students had to get the PIN from financial aid.

This year the movement was to the Web for financial aid. Accenture has had 20 to 30 million visits per day to the Web site.During the 1999-2000 year, the Web site had one million FAFSA applications in by November 15. But this year the Web site had a million visits by Feb 26.

Shane said that feedback about the new modifications to the site have been good so far.

“There has been almost nothing but positive comments,” Shane said.

Accenture intends to do more projects in the future designed with students in mind.