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October 1999 Feature Article

Access America Targets Electronic IDs for Nov '99

Each time you put your card into an ATM machine and enter your PIN (your personal ID number) you are saying, "This is me, Let's do business!" This simple act has now become standard banking practice for millions of people in the United States and around the world. Access America for Students (AAFS) has taken this very idea and applied it to the delivery of student financial aid. But they aren't stopping there. Electronic ID is the next step in the rapidly expanding world of business technology.

"ATMs have become part of everyday life because they are convenient and secure for the user, and a cost-saver for the bank," said Andy Boots, AAFS team member, "now we want to take what we've learned and apply it to student financial aid."

AAFS plans to widen the use of electronic IDs for postsecondary students applying for financial aid using FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) on the Web. All of this will be done without having to set foot in the student financial aid office or wait in line. These electronic IDs will allow students to access more federal government services and complete the transactions entirely online, while ensuring privacy and security for both the user and the government.

Currently, students can fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form online, but they have to download the signature page, print it out, sign it and mail it. With electronic IDs, the process becomes completely paperless. Already possible for many filing their second and subsequent FAFSAs, using an electronic ID will become possible for many more applicants in the future. In November 1999, the Department of Education will partner with the State of New York to begin offering this capability to high school students and their parents.

"That will be a real breakthrough," said Keith Jepsen, Director of Financial Aid at New York University. "I think this use of electronic IDs will encourage use of the online FAFSA and save taxpayer money since it will cut down on paperwork and missing forms." In addition to the FAFSA, electronic ID could potentially allow students to sign promissory notes for loans, file taxes with the IRS and change their address with the Postal Service entirely online and without paper or the mail.

"Schools are no longer brick and ivy," Boots said. "With virtual universities and distance learning courses becoming more popular, electronic IDs can also help schools authenticate student's identities for exams, allow students to register for courses and access their grades, and validate the origin of confidential information. The applications are endless."

Access America for Students