New “Shopping Sheet” Will Make It Easier for Students to “Know Before They Owe”

Editor’s Note: You can read more about the Shopping Sheet in a post on the official blog of U.S. Department of Education. 

Almost every day, President Obama gets letters from students who are swimming in student loan debt, and every week it seems we see another newspaper article about how the cost of college is becoming prohibitively expensive for too many American families.   

We know that college remains an excellent investment. Increasingly however, it is a financed investment, with the monthly loan payments to prove it. And, while we don’t want would-be students to be scared away from going to college because of the price, we aren’t doing students any favors by obscuring the reality of this commitment until after they’ve graduated. 

While this Administration continues to do everything we can to make sure that college remains affordable and available to families in the middle class and those aspiring to the middle class, we also are focused on making it easier for families to understand the costs and benefits of higher education up-front, so that they can more easily choose a college that is both high-quality and affordable. 

That’s why the Administration today released the final version of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet—an individualized standard financial aid award letter that will help students and families understand the costs of college before making the final decision on where to enroll.   The Shopping Sheet is the culmination of a joint effort between the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Education to provide individuals with critical information about their financial decision to attend college in a clear, concise, and standardized format that facilitates easy comparisons across institutions.

As President Obama has said, students must “know before they owe” and be empowered with the facts to accurately compare the true costs of college from one institution to another before making a decision. While every college is unique, there are a few key pieces of information that every college provides -- or should provide -- to its students. The goal of this Shopping Sheet is to make sure this information is available in a clear and consistent format to ensure that students understand their financial responsibilities in a layout that makes sense to them, and in a manner that allows for easy comparisons across schools. 

Today’s announcement builds on the Obama Administration’s continued commitment to address the growing cost of college.  Last year, the President convened leading college presidents from around the nation to discuss innovative solutions and proposals to keep costs down while maintaining quality in higher education. In January, President Obama emphasized the responsibility shared by the federal government, states, colleges, and universities to rein in college costs, and outlined a comprehensive proposal to ensure that we make progress. He also launched what was ultimately a successful effort to spur Congressional action in time to prevent the interest rates on federal student loans from doubling by July of this year. Just recently, in June, Vice President Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan called on all college presidents to provide greater transparency in college costs in financial aid information, and several key institutions, representing more than a million students across the country, committed to provide important financial information on cost, financial aid options, estimated monthly payments, and student outcomes to all of their incoming students. And today, Secretary Duncan sent an open letter to colleges across the country, encouraging them to follow this example and adopt the Shopping Sheet for next school year.

As the parent of one college student, with another who will be applying to college this year, I have learned that we all have something to contribute to make sure that college remains affordable and accessible. The Obama Administration is making sure the federal government is doing its part by expanding Pell Grants and the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and by proposing innovative new reforms.   President Obama has called on States to do their part by ensuring that education is a priority in their budgets.   And while the Administration works with leaders of colleges and universities to make sure that they do their part in keeping costs manageable, students and parents can also do their part by becoming informed consumers when they make college decisions.  As a parent, I will be grateful that the Shopping Sheet will provide my family with a clear and useful tool to help us – and millions more like us -- assess our children’s college choices.

Cecilia Muñoz is the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council
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