The Education Department is reporting significant gains in applications for federal financial aid and in volume in direct lending. Both gains have been expected, but data reported to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators  provide some details on the trends. Through the end of February, the department reported processing almost 3 million Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms for the 2009-10 academic year, an increase of 20 percent over a comparable period a year ago. The shifts reported in direct lending are also dramatic. As of February 25, direct lending volume was $20.2 billion, up from $13.1 billion a year ago. So far this academic year, the number of loans provided through direct lending is up by 1.6 million and the number of participating colleges is up by 548.