Education Department Updates Consumer Tool to Improve Transparency for Parents and Students

NASFAA Will Consumer-Test Proposed Updates to Forthcoming Template With College Students

January 17, 2019 — The Department of Education (ED) yesterday released an updated version of its Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, citing a National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) report as one of the catalysts for the change. The Shopping Sheet is a standardized consumer tool colleges and universities are encouraged to use to make it easier for prospective students to compare financial aid award offers from different institutions. The new version, released yesterday for the 2019-20 financial aid award year, includes several updates that aim to make college costs and financial aid packages more transparent for students and their parents.

Among the changes is the name itself, which ED changed from the Shopping Sheet to the "College Financing Plan," to more accurately highlight the prevalence of loans in some financial aid packages and emphasize the fact that students are "making a financial transaction when enrolling in college," according to the department’s announcement.

The department made these changes after reviewing NASFAA's "No Clear Winner: Consumer Testing of Financial Aid Award Letters” report, as well as other comments that have been submitted about the Shopping Sheet. In 2012, NASFAA contracted an independent research firm to consumer-test the Shopping Sheet and two NASFAA-designed alternative financial aid award notifications with students, through focus groups and questionnaires. The NASFAA study tried to ascertain how consumers would understand the information on a model or standardized award notification. Overall, no clear winner rose to the top, and students helped identify the strengths and weaknesses of each format.

According to yesterday’s announcement, the new College Financing Plan template is being released as part of a beta test, which the education department hopes to learn from and update accordingly for the 2020-21 year, with more customizability and additional data elements.

“We are pleased to see the department take seriously the role of consumer testing in developing and updating student and parent disclosures,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “We will be taking a close look at ED’s proposed updates and plan to consumer-test them with students as we’ve done in the past. The financial aid community looks forward to working with our federal partners, students, parents, and counselors to ensure that financial aid information is provided in the clearest way possible.”

To request an interview with a NASFAA spokesperson about this updated consumer information tool and other recommendations NASFAA has put forward to increase transparency for students and parents, email NASFAA Director of Communications and Marketing Erin Powers at [email protected].


The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents more than 20,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every ten undergraduates in the United States. Based in Washington, D.C., NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aid legislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators. For more information, visit

Publication Date: 1/17/2019

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