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Department of Education Looks to APIs to Increase Access to Student Aid, Higher Education Data

On April 16, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) published a request for information (RFI) in the Federal Register asking for input on the use of Application Program Interfaces (APIs) for higher education data and student aid programs and processes at the Department. As explained in ED’s announcement, President Obama has called for innovation in college access, including finding ways to ensure students have the information necessary to make the best decisions for their future. The use of APIs can assist in these efforts by making data and information more open and easily accessible.

APIs are sets of software instructions and standards that allow for machine-to-machine communication. ED is suggesting using these processes to build apps and other tools to bring government information and services straight to consumers to help them access government-owned data and participate in government-run processes from more places other than the traditional Internet sources. These APIs could help streamline the flow of information within and between federal agencies, in the private sector, or by students and their families. They could be read-only APIs, which would allow consumers to read material on a Web site or third-party app, or read-write APIs, which would allow consumers to interact with and submit information, allowing students to submit FAFSA forms or enroll in Income-Driven Repayment programs immediately.

One of the main requests in the RFI is for input on ways in which the department could ensure privacy for students and protect their information while encouraging greater, more open use of student data via APIs. Safeguards for students’ personal information must be maintained in order to best protect students’ identities as well as the integrity of federal student aid programs.

The RFI is one aspect of the administration’s education agenda. In August 2013, President Obama announced an education program aimed at increasing college affordability for students and their families. This included making student aid information as well as college value statistics more available and accessible to the public. One of the administration’s first steps to achieving this was hosting the Education Datapalooza in January 2014, where the Department originally announced its interest in the use of APIs in higher education and plans to issue the RFI.

Comments are due on June 2. EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor this process. 

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Comments

How does APIs impact access to student aid for those seeking a higher education and has access to student aid been on the decline in recent years?

If this Request  for Information is implemented, how does the privacy of students be excercise when all of their records can easily be accessed?