No Clear Winner: Consumer Testing of Financial Aid Award Letters - Summary & Report

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Recognizing that a plethora of untested consumer information is now available for prospective and current students and parents, NASFAA in 2012 contracted independent research firm JBL Associates, Inc. (JBLA) to consumer test the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Shopping Sheet and two NASFAA-designed alternative financial aid award letters among consumers through focus groups and a questionnaire. 

This study tried to ascertain how consumers would understand the information on a model or standardized award letter notification. Three letters were tested:  

  • Letter A was the U.S. Department of Education’s Shopping Sheet.
  • Letter B was an award letter developed based on the recommendations from the NASFAA Award Notification and Consumer Information Task Force. 
  • Letter C was a NASFAA-designed hybrid of the Shopping Sheet and NASFAA Task Force letters.

Award Letter Report Cover 

JBLA conducted focus groups in three geographically diverse locations with students and parents at the high school level, and in colleges across all institution types (community college, four-year public, four-year private nonprofit, and for-profit). They tested for participants’ comprehension levels of financial aid concepts and content as presented in each letter,and sought participant feedback and opinions regarding:  

  • The level of clarity in each letter;
  • Features they either found helpful or confusing; and
  • Suggestions for improvement

Overall, no clear winner rose to the top. When asked for their opinions of the letters, students and parents alike felt overwhelmed and confused by the information presented.  

Details of the study’s findings and recommendations for next steps are included in this report.