Using—and Improving—Federal Student Aid Data Systems to Support Policy Analysis

Matthew Soldner, AIR
Colleen Campbell, Association of Community College Trustees

Federal financial aid is critical to millions of college students’ success each year. Making it possible for policy researchers to leverage the data resources of the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) office holds the potential to find ways to help even more students succeed. This report outlines six recommendations that the Department of Education might consider in building secure, accessible, and efficient routes to data-driven policy-making.

Systematic solutions meeting a variety of analytic goals are needed if FSA data are to make a larger impact in the policy analysis—and policymaking—community. Specific solutions include the following:

  • Develop a systematic process for soliciting feedback about the types of FSA data-based analyses that would benefit policymakers and analysts, and posting the resulting information to the FSA Data Center.
  • Improve the usefulness of existing National Student Loan Data System-based reports provided to campus-based aid administrators, ensuring their contents support local research designed to improve the management of aid programs.
  • Build the capacity of the nascent FSA Data Office to respond to more complex research requests, and making explicit FSA’s commitment to supporting research designed to improve aid administration and policymaking.
  • Leverage the Department of Education's (ED's) existing PowerStats web tool to facilitate secure analysis of new or existing extracts from FSA data systems.
  • Use ED's existing restricted-use data licensing process to make FSA data extracts or ED policy analysis tools available to qualified researchers.
  • Explore whether access to ED’s new Enterprise Data Warehouse, which brings together data from several key FSA systems, might be possible under the Census Bureau’s Research Data Center model.