Summary: We are changing SFA and I want you in on everything.
March 25, 1999
We are changing SFA and I want you in on everything.
The biggest potential changes are being shaped by our Customer Service Task Force. Their job is to find out what service the students want, and how we can help our partners (schools, lenders, and guarantors) and our employees deliver that service. Most of what the task force is doing so far is listening. I want them to listen to you. On the Web at www.ed.gov/cstf, you can tell them what you think, and find out what else they have heard. They are working fast and have to finish soon, so contact them in the next few weeks.
One thing clear to me is that SFA is not organized in a way that focuses on serving customers and collaborating with partners. We now have a traditional government structure, organized according to a mixture of programs and functions. Instead Im thinking we should line up our business operations in three channels. One focussed on you institutions, another on students, and a third for our financial partners. The general managers for these channels would control the operations that serve their customers, and partners. Give the Customer Service Task Force your thoughts on this, too.
Delivering top-notch service nowadays means using information technology. So we are drawing up a computer systems Modernization Blueprint. It will document how well design our systems architecture and show how we move from our current cumbersome business processes and stovepipe systems to a streamlined, integrated system that our customers and all our partners can rely on. Project EASI is graduating to the next level and will be the foundation of our plan. I have Jerry Russomano of my staff and Dr. Keith Jepsen of New York University working on the blueprint with my staff and Computer Sciences Corporation, and we'll be able to show you a draft this Spring. Send them your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All of the software used by SFA to manage loans and grants is now Y2K compliant. But the job is not complete until we have tested our systems end-to-end with our data transfer partners. A test schedule for systems used by schools and other partners is posted on the Web (www.ed.gov/y2k) and test data will be transmitted over the Internet. Test transmissions start in mid-April. The Web site also has tips on making other computer applications compliant even those that have nothing to do with student aid.
Many schools had complained about a provision in our master promissory note (item #8 in the Direct Loan p-note, item #11 in FFEL) that forced students to set arbitrary limits on their own future borrowing, even though limits are already set by law. Most students just guess at what they will need, and if they guess too low, they and their school have to do the paperwork all over again. So we changed the p-note, removing the arbitrary limit and, instead, stipulating that schools will tell students how much they are eligible to borrow, and that students may borrow less. If your school has already printed the old version of the p-note, dont throw them out; we will accept either version this year.
Along with all the changes, we are keeping the other trains running, too. In January, 200,000 applicants rushed to consolidate old loans before the end-of-the-month deadline for below-market interest rates. Just eighteen months earlier, our consolidation processing had shut down under a fraction of that load. But this time, average processing time stayed under 60 days, well below the 90 days we promised.
This month, we hit the peak period for FAFSAs and held up well. By March 12th, we had received 2.9 million applications and were turning them around in just days, well ahead of last years pace. I was especially glad to see that we are getting six times as many Web applications as last year. But we are still getting 90% of the FAFSAs on paper; lets keep pushing the Web.
Ill keep you posted on our progress. But, better still, get involved. Get your ideas to the teams that are shaping the future, or send them to me at email@example.com. I dont promise to answer each one, but I do promise to listen.
Chief Operating Officer
Office of Student Financial Assistance