Student Financial Aid:

Schools' Experiences Using the National Student Loan Data System

HEHS-98-192: Published: Sep 24, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 1998.

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Carlotta C. Joyner
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed schools' use of the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), focusing on: (1) the extent to and purposes for which schools are using NSLDS; (2) problems these schools are having and the benefits they are getting from using the system; (3) why some schools are not using NSLDS; and (4) the extent to which the Department of Education is taking or plans to take steps to ensure that schools are fully using NSLDS.

GAO noted that: (1) postsecondary schools participating in federal student financial aid programs are making limited use of NSLDS' online and batch processing functions; (2) GAO estimated that almost half of the schools are not using these system capabilities at all--3 years after they first became available; (3) those that are using these functions are not routinely using them for many of the tasks they are capable of performing; (4) the one use made by the majority of schools is to provide and update student financial data on the student status confirmation report, which the Department now requires all schools to perform; (5) GAO estimated that over half of the schools rarely or never performed 7 of the 10 tasks that GAO identified for its survey using NSLDS' online and batch processing functions; (6) in general, schools' experiences using NSLDS have been relatively problem free; however, some schools did experience problems with some aspects of the system; (7) schools using NSLDS' online and batch processing functions had mixed views on whether they led to improvements in their program administration; (8) schools that did not use NSLDS' online and batch processing functions cited a variety of reasons for not doing so; (9) the most frequent reasons cited by these schools included relying on alternative methods to obtain or submit data needed to administer student aid programs; (10) of the schools that did not use the systems' online and batch processing functions, many did not have plans to obtain access to NSLDS, had plans to obtain access to the system but did not know when, or were unsure when they would obtain access to the system in the future; (11) in an effort to increase schools' use of NSLDS, the Department has provided training assistance to schools and has worked to ensure the accuracy of the system's data; (12) the Department recently expanded its NSLDS customer service center and will offer NSLDS training to users at its 11 regional training centers; (13) in addition, to demonstrate its commitment to improving the reliability of data on its postsecondary education programs, the Department has addressed the issue of data integrity in its long-range strategic and annual performance plans prepared in response to the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993; (14) as part of this commitment, the Department has initiated efforts to identify and correct inaccurate data in NSLDS, and to strengthen its working relationships with other data providers, such as guaranty agencies.

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