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Spying on Student Aid

Department of Education proposes plan to put financial aid onto debit cards.

Education+Secretary+Betsy+DeVos
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Tom Williams

Tom Williams

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Ricky Rodas, Investigative Reporter

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The U.S Department of Education will soon begin testing a Federal Student Aid Payment Card pilot program, a move that would drastically alter the way student aid is dispersed.

The program was announced in a notice published in the Federal Business Opportunities web portal in January, and will be piloted with a select amount of schools. According to the web portal, the purpose of the debit card will be, “to facilitate FSA loan refunds, along with other funds, originated by participating schools.”

“This overhaul is long overdue,” said Secretary DeVos. “Students and their families should be treated like the valued customers they are and should have access to the tools needed for success. Today’s announcement is a significant first step in our commitment to improving the experiences students, parents and borrowers have with FSA and in bringing federal student aid programs into the 21st century.”

DeVos appointed Dr. A. Wayne Johnson as chief operating officer of the Department’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA). In an interview with Inside Higher ED, Johnson said, “We will have controls.”

The Department of Education is currently looking for a contractor to help implement the program. According to the web portal, the pilot is expected to be implemented by late Spring 2018.

As of now, financial aid and loans are disbursed directly to universities and colleges and then given to students. Multiple news outlets such as BuzzFeed news have reported that the card would restrict what students spend federal dollars on.

According to BuzzFeed news, the card program would essentially allow the Department of Education to function as a bank. That means that they would oversee the usage of their federal aid money.

Students like Rafael Martinez, aviation administration major, feel that the program is a bad idea and would lead to a decrease in financial aid for students:

“It would be a bad idea because the government is going to give us the card, and whatever the government gives us they monitor, so they’re going to see what we’re spending our money on,” said Martinez.

Martinez says that students need the extra money for basic necessities such as travel funds to commute to school:

“We are still in college; it’s not only books to come to college, you have to commute. It’s a hard commute for some people. There are a lot more expenses that come with college and university, but they don’t see that; that extra money is for us to get help, because a lot of us are going to end up being broke.”

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Spying on Student Aid