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Bill to standardize financial aid award letters gaining traction


Monday, June 17, 2013

The college search process usually involves a number of financial considerations such as the cost of tuition, room and board, books and supplies and the availability of financial assistance to help make all this affordable. However, ascertaining the true cost of earning a degree is not always as straightforward as it could be, due to variations in financial aid award letters that colleges use to notify prospective students of their financial aid package. To address this problem, a group of senators has reintroduced a bill that would require all schools to use a universal financial aid letter, thereby making the true cost of attending college more transparent to students and their families, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.

A bipartisan push
Improving the transparency of student financial aid has been a cornerstone of President Barack Obama's education reforms since he the beginning of his administration. However, despite the introduction of the student loan calculator and other measures designed to make it easier for students to understand the financial implications of their college choice, there are still many aspects of the system that can be improved. To address this shortcoming, a  bipartisan group of senators has reintroduced the Understanding the True Cost of College Act, also known as Senate Bill 1156.

This legislation will mandate that all postsecondary institutions provide a uniform letter that would clarify what financial aid families will receive from a school by creating standard terms for all the available aid. This would allow students and parents to accurately compare offers from different schools. Understanding the True Cost of College Act would require all financial aid award letters to include the cost of attendance, clear data on students' eligibility for federal loans, expected monthly repayments and applicable disclosures relating to the terms of their loans. If the bill becomes law, it could benefit millions of students preparing for college.

Tackling rising debt
One of the key drivers behind the decision is to help students and their families make informed decisions about their college choice and thereby tackle the growing nationwide problem of increasing student loan debt.

"Last year, the amount of student loan debt owed by Americans surpassed $1 trillion, and that number is growing," said Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. "It is important that students and their families have uniform, consumer-friendly information about the cost of college up-front so they can shop around, make apples-to-apples comparisons among colleges, and select a school that best meets their needs, in terms of both quality and affordability."

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