Man presenting at conference about federal student aidThe Federal Student Aid conference each year provides instruction and guidance for financial aid professionals, while also serving as the setting for announcements about upcoming changes to policy and new tools on the horizon. This year’s gathering in Reno, NV included several sessions sharing exciting new changes coming within the next several months, all of them designed to help students navigate the financial aid process and earn their college degree. We’ve summarized the big highlights below.

  • Aidan, a new chatbot created by Federal Student Aid, will soon be in place to answer questions from student borrowers about their loan balance, available repayment plans, how to make a payment, and more, and he’ll direct users to helpful links for more information. Aidan will debut in Winter 2020 to a limited audience before expanding.
  • Several Federal Student Aid websites will be consolidated in Winter 2020 to make it easier for students and borrowers to manage and understand their federal aid. Studentloans.gov, studentaid.gov, fsa.ed.gov, and nslds.ed.gov, each of which currently serves a different function, will all be combined into one site located at studentaid.gov with one log-in.
  • A new Informed Borrower Tool (IBT) will allow students to estimate their monthly loan payments and view school data from the College Scorecard. Borrowers will see their total federal loan balance and loan payment due date(s). All students will need to certify that they’ve viewed the tool before borrowing a federal loan. The IBT will soon launch as a general informational tool and by the 2020-21 academic year will contain borrower data.
  • Federal Student Aid used a Machine Learning Model (MLM) in the 2019-20 academic year federal verification process that helped the department do a better job selecting the appropriate filers for verification. It also reduced the number of students selected for verification by 8% (to 22% of students), based on a finding that verifying 22% would result in the highest return on improper aid payments. As verification can cause students not to complete the financial aid process (“verification melt”), Federal Student Aid predicts that lowering the percentage of students selected for verification will help thousands more students receive federal student aid. The MLM will be retrained each year.
  • A pilot program coming soon, in partnership with select colleges, will offer students income-share agreements to repay their Federal Direct Loans. Institutions will assume the loan from the federal government, and students will make payments to the school.
  • The new Loan Simulator will help borrowers find the federal student loan repayment plan that most aligns with their goals for repayment (such as having the lowest monthly payment or paying off loans quickly). Borrowers will be able to use the tool anonymously or log in to have their experience personalized.
  • Based on most recent data, 90,962 borrowers have applied for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), and 845 have been approved. Of those Direct Loan borrowers who were denied, 80% didn’t have a loan that had entered repayment 10 or more years ago, one of the main requirements to qualify for PSLF.

The full list of sessions from the FSA conference has been posted online here, and most have presentation slides included. As new tools and policies launch, keep an eye out for announcements from Federal Student Aid for more details and updates.