Education Department Opens Financial Aid Portal

DOE's online Financial Aid Toolkit organizes information about college financing options for students, parents, and advisers.
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The Department of Education (DOE) is trying to make it easier for students and their advisers prepare for the cost of postsecondary education with the introduction of the Financial Aid Toolkit.

The toolkit is a searchable database that houses information about student aid options. DOE has dubbed it as a "one-stop shop" for college planning. According to DOE officials, more than $150 million is available to eligible students to help pay for college, but finding those funds remains a challenge for students and their parents.

The website is part of the Obama administration's efforts to consolidate government information from multiple agencies into a single online location to make it easier for the public to find what they're looking for.

The database has an advanced search function that allows users to filter information, depending on whether users are students, parents, high school guidance counselors, or college advisers. It also brings together information on college preparation, financial eligibility, types of financial aid, and other resources.

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The website, which debuted in December, is organized into four sections based on counselors' most common needs. One section, called Learn About Financial Aid, provides tips and resources for working with students through the planning process. Counselors have access to videos, infographics, and various publications, such as a college preparation checklist. They can also get updates on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and get guidance on helping student loan borrowers come up with a repayment plan.

The site uses social media outreach to help counselors get information to students. This includes posts on Twitter and Facebook for FAFSA completion and loan repayment. For those not very familiar with social media, the toolkit offers tips on how to leverage content across various channels. The site's outreach feature provides counselors with information on setting up and hosting events and reaching out to students.

Another resource offered to counselors and college professionals is free training. They can search the database for workshops offered through the National Training for Counselors and Mentors (NT4CM), view a training webinar, or access training materials.

The Financial Aid Toolkit is updated with new information and resources regularly, according to the DOE.

"This toolkit builds on the administration's ongoing efforts to improve college access and affordability, and it is an important step toward meeting the president's 2020 goal of having the most college graduates in the world," US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a written statement.

President Obama first announced the American Graduation Initiative in July 2009 to reform community colleges nationwide and supply them with the necessary resources to help students succeed. The initiative -- costing approximately $12 billion -- would provide an additional five million Americans with degrees and certificates in the next decade, according to Obama. One of the agenda's goals is simplifying the student aid application process. Obama stressed the importance of modernizing the online application to reduce complexity, which has deterred many students from applying for aid.

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