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The Department of Education recently held its annual Federal Student Aid (FSA) Training Conference in Reno, NV, with more than 5,000 higher education financial aid professionals in attendance.

The conference included more than 50 different educational sessions on a number of topics. It also featured a keynote address from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, where she proposed moving FSA out from under ED to make it an independent agency so that it could better serve students.

“Congress never set up the U.S. Department of Education to be a bank,” DeVos claimed. Citing the $1.5 trillion federal student loan portfolio FSA holds as well as the array of repayment options, DeVos said FSA should become a standalone federal entity run by an apolitical board of directors rather than the education secretary.

DeVos added, “I’m not so sure the federal government should monopolize student lending, but if it does—and for now it essentially does—then it must provide services on par with world-class financial firms.”

Such a move would require a change in law by Congress, and it is unclear if there is an appetite for such a change on Capitol Hill.

DeVos also announced updates to the College Scorecard that will include debt and potential earnings by field of study. The scorecard will also present information on all types of higher education options, including two- and four--year degrees, certificates, apprenticeships, and some graduate programs.

Additionally, DeVos unveiled “Aidan,” a new chatbot developed by FSA to provide information on loan servicers, account balances, and answers to other common questions from students and families.

In a concurrent session, staff from ED announced a new Experimental Sites initiative. Under Experimental Sites, ED waives Title IV requirements for a limited number of institutions to serve as pilots to refine new ideas and test them in the real world. This new experiment will allow the small number of participating pilot institutions to limit borrowing across all Direct Loan programs, repay a student’s loan for any reason, or utilize a combination of both to develop an institution-designed and -managed financing program for students. That could be in the form of a low-interest loan, income-share agreement, or any other program designed by the institution. ED will soon post a Federal Register notice inviting schools to participate in the pilot.

Slides and audio recordings of the conference sessions are available online, with video available for general sessions. While the majority of the sessions were aimed at financial aid staff, some should be of particular interest to business office staff. Those include:

  • General Session 1: Welcome and keynote
  • General Session 2: Federal update
  • Session 7: College Scorecard
  • Session 8: Institutional charges under the cash management rules
  • Session 11: Update on Borrower Defense rules
  • Session 15: Reporting for campus-based programs, assigning loans, and reimbursing Perkins cancellations
  • Session 21: Program reviews and top 10 compliance findings
  • Session 23: Clery Act
  • Session 27: Financial literacy
  • Session 32: Experimental sites


Bryan Dickson

Director, Student Financial Services and Educational Programs


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