Decoding the Cost of College: The Case for Transparent Financial Aid Award Letters

Posted by uAspire on June 11, 2018

Recently, uAspire and our partners at New America have released a new, groundbreaking report entitled “Decoding the Cost of College: The Case for Transparent Financial Aid Award Letters.” This report sheds light on how financial aid award letters keep students and families in the dark and offers solutions to better inform students about college costs and financial aid.

Through this research partnership, we analyzed thousands of financial aid award letters and found not only that financial aid is insufficient to cover the cost of college for many students, but also the vehicle by which this information is communicated—the award letter—lacks basic consistency and transparency. This study found seven common ways these letters fail to adequately inform students and families as they make decisions about investing in their own higher education:

  • Confusing Jargon and Terminology
  • Omission of the Cost
  • No Clear Next Steps
  • Inconsistent Bottom Line Calculations
  • Vague Definitions and Poor Placement of Work-Study
  • Misleading Packaging of Parent PLUS Loans
  • Failure to Differentiate Types of Aid

Following up on our Chief Policy Officer Laura Keane’s testimony in front of the U.S. Senate HELP Committee in January and based on these findings, we believe there is an opportunity for federal, state and institutional parties to enact systems-level change by standardizing these award letters and making them more transparent for the consumer, our nation’s students and families. At uAspire, we plan to leverage this research and over 30 years of experience working directly with students, to advocate for these changes with policymakers in government and on the institutional level to ensure our country’s financial aid systems help rather than hinder students’ ability to earn a college degree.

Thank you for your continued support of our work. We will be in touch about ways you can help us advance these important, student-centered changes so that all students in our country can find an affordable path to and through college.

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