While NASFAA has long seen the value in providing a resource of this type to its members, last summer the association actively sought out grantors to assist in creating a student financial aid reference tool that would be free and open to the public. As Congress and the Department of Education continue to update and release guidance related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the association recognized that other offices on campus beyond financial aid—including higher education researchers, scholarship providers, foundations, lawmakers, and others—could benefit from access to this information.
In July 2020, NASFAA was awarded a generous grant from ECMC Foundation to redesign and expand its formerly members-only Student Aid Index tool. The intent was to create and provide an accessible resource that facilitates research and advocacy for anyone interested in college access, success, and student financial aid. After many months of development and content collection, NASFAA launched the publicly available Ref Desk platform.
“Making the Ref Desk open access will be a positive step forward for those in the higher education research, policy, and administration spaces, as well as high school guidance counselors, college administrators, and others supporting students in their pursuit of a higher education [who] will have access to the tool,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. The intent is for the Ref Desk to remain open access for the long haul.
The Student Aid Reference Desk compiles resources related to the administration of student aid programs with direct links to federal regulation, legislative text, and U.S. Department of Education guidance, as well as interpretation and analysis from policy organizations, institutions, researchers, and groups focused on student access and success in higher education. Information is organized by topical area. The source is easily searchable.
Users who engage with the Ref Desk will find regularly updated information and resources on topics that include the Federal Work Study Program (FWS), consumer information, cost of attendance, direct loans, institutional eligibility, Pell Grants, and financial responsibility of institutions. Users will also see current trending as well as suggested topics, and can search the site by entering keywords and phrases. NASFAA will remove content on a rolling basis that is no longer active and plans to perform further programmatic adjustments to site features, including adding new content on timely college access and success topics.
Financial aid specialists, researchers, and other professionals may submit resources for inclusion in the Ref Desk. Submitted content will be vetted, on an as-needed basis, by contributing partners before it is added to the tool and made available to the public. NASFAA makes every effort to ensure that information provided in the Ref Desk is nonpartisan and as accurate, complete, and up to date as possible.
Student advisors and college access professionals will be able to use the Ref Desk to gain greater understanding of the student aid process as a whole, which will allow them to communicate clearly with students, parents, and their institutions about topics like grant programs, loan eligibility, verification requirements, and the appeal and professional judgment process by which a financial aid administrator may make adjustments to assess a student’s need calculation to more accurately reflect a family’s financial circumstances.