Student Financial Aid Information:

Systems Architecture Needed to Improve Programs' Efficiency

AIMD-97-122: Published: Jul 29, 1997. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed the Department of Education's progress toward integrating the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) with other student financial aid data systems, as required by law.

GAO noted that: (1) the Department of Education has made limited progress in integrating NSLDS with the other student financial aid data systems that support title IV programs; (2) neither NSLDS nor the other systems were designed for efficient access to reliable student financial aid information; (3) many of the systems are incompatible and lack data standards and common identifiers; (4) inhibiting movement toward a fully functional, real-time, integrated system is the absence of a systems architecture--a structure for effectively incorporating major systems development into an existing information systems environment; (5) the Department to date has not devoted the time or effort necessary to develop such an architecture; hence, its past and current systems development activities have no single, guiding framework; (6) without a systems architecture and the ability to easily integrate its systems, the Department continues to acquire independent systems to support specific student financial aid programs--programs that cannot easily share information; (7) accordingly, the cost of developing and maintaining these stand-alone systems continues to mount; and (8) while developing such stand-alone systems has served immediate program needs on a limited basis, this approach undermines the goal of sharing student financial aid information across programs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education has developed a Modernization Blueprint for the Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA), which contains the elements of a systems architecture identified in the report. Specifically, this document establishes the information technology infrastructure on which the future student financial aid systems are to be built.

    Recommendation: Given the importance, cost, and magnitude of student financial aid and the information systems structure needed to support this aid, the Secretary of Education should direct the Department's chief information officer to develop and enforce a Departmentwide systems architecture by June 30, 1998, that includes, but is not limited to: (1) a high-level description of the organization's mission, functional requirements, information requirements, systems, and information flows among systems; and (2) specific information technology and communications standards and approaches that address critical hardware, software, communications, data management, security, and performance characteristics.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education has developed a Modernization Blueprint for the Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA), which contains the elements of a systems architecture identified in the report. Specifically, this document establishes the information technology infrastructure on which the future student financial aid systems are to be built.

    Recommendation: Given the importance, cost, and magnitude of student financial aid and the information systems structure needed to support this aid, the Secretary of Education should direct the Department's chief information officer to ensure that the developed systems architecture addresses the title IV systems integration, common identifiers, and data standards deficiencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education has developed a Modernization Blueprint for the Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA), which contains the elements of a systems architecture identified in the report. Specifically, this document establishes the information technology infrastructure on which the future student financial aid systems are to be built.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should direct that as of July 1, 1998, the Department's information technology investments conform to the developed architecture and that funding for all projects be predicated on such conformance, unless careful, thorough, and documented analysis supports an exception.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

 

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