The Final Six Months
Revamp the financial aid system? Robert Shireman says the Education Department might focus its energy in its last days on a less-ambitious but helpful goal: better URLs for its Web sites.
I appreciate the Secretary of Education’s decision, announced last week, to make a final push to revamp the financial aid process. But whether or not that goal is accomplished, I want to suggest something that Margaret Spellings can definitely get done in the final six months of the Bush administration.
It won’t simplify the whole financial aid process, but it will help people get on the right road.
It doesn’t have to wait for Congressional approval. It’s not subject to review by the Office of Management and Budget. It’s not even controversial or costly. In fact, it’s so simple she could do it herself.
My suggestion: better url’s.
An American taxpayer looking for information on the Internet should be able to make the mistake of typing education.gov into the web browser and still get to the U.S. Department of Education. After all, the Departments of Justice, Energy, and Treasury are justice.gov, energy.gov, and treasury.gov. “Ed” is a fine nickname, but by redirecting the education.gov to the actual agency site people won’t get lost or discouraged.
Second, protect unsophisticated web searchers from getting conned by companies that make them pay for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Capture the fafsa.gov url. Right now, typing that easy-to-remember url in the browser yields sponsored search results from those unscrupulous companies instead of going directly to the actual FAFSA page (which is actually at the impossible-to-remember www.ed.fafsa.gov, or maybe it’s www.fafsa.ed.gov, or is it www.ed.gov/fafsa? I can’t remember!)
If I want to reserve a camp site run by a federal agency I go to recreation.gov. If I want to eliminate pesky phone solicitors I go to donotcall.gov. There is postoffice.gov, grants.gov, womenbiz.gov, and disabilityinfo.gov. To keep the agencies on their toes, there is not only a results.gov, there is now also expectmore.gov.
If nothing else new gets accomplished, the Secretary of Education should at least be able to say six months from now that people who type in logical education-related dot-gov domain names will land at a helpful location. There’s no need to build new web pages; just register the domain names and have them land where there’s already appropriate information for those who type in financialaid.gov, studentloan.gov, pellgrant.gov, fasfa.gov, and so on. (A helpful model to emulate is nclb.gov, which already goes to a page all about No Child Left Behind.).
Fortunately, there’s not a lot of bureaucracy that gets in the way of accomplishing this modest goal. The whole process for claiming a dot-gov domain name is conveniently online at dotgov.gov, an easy address to remember.
Robert Shireman is president of the Institute for College Access and Success.
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