NASFAA Mention: Confusion Still Reigns Over Student Aid. Here's Why.

"Congress has just approved some changes to simplify how students apply for federal student aid. OK, great. But hold the applause. Even as the process of applying for federal student aid may be getting improved thanks to bipartisan legislation, the way that financial aid gets described to students once it is awarded is still pretty much a hot mess," The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

"The confusion reigns over student aid even though the U.S. Department of Education has produced a new model aid-award form called the College Financing Plan. It was designed as a template for colleges to use to make financial aid and college costs clearer. But recent consumer testing shows that the form may not be up to the task: Four out of five students surveyed were confused by at least one bit of language or a number on a beta version of this new College Financing Plan, and the same was true for three out of four parents.

In some instances, the confusion was highest among students and parents most reliant on it. For example, the lowest-income students and parents surveyed were among the most confused by the section of the form describing loans.

The survey, which included 1,000 students and 750 parents, was commissioned by a company called CampusLogic, which provides financial-aid services to colleges. You can check out the whole survey here.

Two parts of the template that students and parents found most confusing in a test version of the College Financing Plan were eliminated in the final version to be used for 2020-21 aid awards. Still, Carlo Salerno, the vice president for research at CampusLogic, says the survey shows 'there are challenges with this letter that really need to be resolved.' For one, he told me, the survey findings suggest that 'one-size-fits-all letters might not really work because people get confused in different ways.'


Honestly, I’m also surprised that confusion levels about the College Financing Plan indicated in the CampusLogic survey weren’t even higher. Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, says whatever confusion the document engenders probably isn’t necessarily all the fault of the form. Some of the confusion, he said, simply reflects “how complicated the system is.”

If anything, Draeger told me, his members believe the College Financing Plan is at least 'a step up from the Shopping Sheet,' which was the first version of this effort at a uniform award letter, initiated under the Obama administration. 'I’m just not sure we will ever come up with a one-pager that can cover all the complexities,' Draeger said.

So is the College Financing Plan an improvement? Maybe. But just a little. The field is 'inching' forward, Draeger said, but 'there’s a ways to go.' And it could actually get even more confusing if colleges decide to use the template but then send their own explanatory letters as well. Keane, too, sees progress, especially as Congress continues to pay heed to the in the issue, but she’s quick to add, 'There’s more to do.'"

NASFAA's "Notable Headlines" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Articles included under the notable headlines section are not written by NASFAA, but rather by external sources. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.


Publication Date: 12/11/2019

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