The Big Story Blog

A truth in financial aid form?

Posted at 1:01 PM on October 27, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Education


I'm a couple years away from my first attempt at putting a kid through college. The financial aid stuff already makes my head hurt. There's no practical way to judge financial aid packages from different schools.

So as we examine President Obama's proposal today to ease the debt burden on some college students, I wanted to highlight work today by MPR News higher education blogger Alex Friedrich reporting on the administration efforts to create a standard approach.

Friedrich also quotes Raj Date of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who spoke Wednesday at the University of Minnesota.

One challenge that students face is comparing financial aid information from different schools. ... It's important to be able make side-by-side comparisons. But when prospective students open their financial aid offer letters, they find different colleges often use different terms and different formats.

On one school's financial aid letter, it might say that the student's financial aid would include an "alternative loan," while another school calls that exact same loan an "institutional loan."

Or, my favorite is (that) schools sometimes use their own acronyms without ever explaining what those acronyms mean. ...

I saw one award letter recently that (said) a student's package would include $600 for a PHEAA, without explaining anywhere that this is a loan, this PHEAA. Because these terms are not clear, students and families might not be able to tell which school is more expensive over the long run. So instead, too many students end up focused only on the immediate out-of-pocket costs. ...

Anyone have a good story about trying to make sense of a financial aid package(s)? Post something below.

About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.

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