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How Government Data Could Make College Cheaper


The Education Department is looking for advice on how the private sector and nonprofits might use government-gathered data to make higher education cheaper, more accessible and a better value for the cost.

The department wants feedback from developers on how they could use APIs, also known as application programming interfaces, to build websites, mobile applications and other products that help the public learn more about higher education and financial aid.

An API is a system for streaming information directly from one digital place, such as an Education Department database, to another place, such as a website that helps students compare universities based on affordability, reputation and other criteria.

The Education Department published a formal request for information seeking feedback early Wednesday and promoted the RFI in a blog post.

“Students and families need reliable, timely information in an open and accessible format to identify, afford and complete a degree or program that is affordable and will help them reach their educational and career goals,” the RFI said.

The RFI was spawned, in part, by a project President Obama announced in August 2013 to make college more affordable, especially for low-income or first generation students. That project includes the government independently assessing each college’s value and tying financial aid funding to college performance.

The RFI also ties in with an Obama administration mandate to make significantly more government data available through machine-readable formats so it can be scooped up by outside developers. An earlier mandate, the Digital Government Strategy released in 2012, required every agency to offer at least two APIs.

The Internal Revenue Service launched a tool in February that allows parents and students to automatically transfer much of their tax information from IRS servers to the Federal Application for Student Aid. 

(Image via Bennyartist/

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