How Can the Department of Education Increase Innovation, Transparency and Access to Data?

Cross posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog

Despite the growing amount of information about higher education, many students and families still need access to clear, helpful resources to make informed decisions about going to – and paying for – college.  President Obama has called for innovation in college access, including by making sure all students have easy-to-understand information.

Now, the U.S. Department of Education needs your input on specific ways that we can increase innovation, transparency, and access to data.  In particular, we are interested in how APIs (application programming interfaces) could make our data and processes more open and efficient.

APIs are set of software instructions and standards that allow machine-to-machine communication.  APIs could allow developers from inside and outside government to build apps, widgets, websites, and other tools based on government information and services to let consumers access government-owned data and participate in government-run processes from more places on the Web, even beyond .gov websites. Well-designed government APIs help make data and processes freely available for use within agencies, between agencies, in the private sector, or by citizens, including students and families.

So, today, we are asking you – student advocates, designers, developers, and others – to share your ideas on how APIs could spark innovation and enable processes that can serve students better. We need you to weigh in on a Request for Information (RFI) – a formal way the government asks for feedback – on how the Department could use APIs to increase access to higher education data or financial aid programs. There may be ways that Department forms – like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – or information-gathering processes could be made easier for students by incorporating the use of APIs. We invite the best and most creative thinking on specific ways that Department of Education APIs could be used to improve outcomes for students.

To weigh in, you can email APIRFI@ed.gov by June 2, or send your input via other addresses as detailed in the online notice.

The Department wants to make sure to do this right. It must ensure the security and privacy of the data it collects or maintains, especially when the information of students and families is involved.  Openness only works if privacy and security issues are fully considered and addressed.  We encourage the field to provide comments that identify concerns and offer suggestions on ways to ensure privacy, safeguard student information, and maintain access to federal resources at no cost to the student.

Through this request, we hope to gather ideas on how APIs could be used to fuel greater innovation and, ultimately, affordability in higher education.  For further information, see the Federal Register notice.

David Soo is a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

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