Category Archives: College Cost Transparency

FAFSA with use 2 year old tax data.

President Changes FAFSA to Give Families Better College Affordability Information.

This change in the FAFSA start-date starting on October 1st 2016, along with the recently announced College Scorecard system, are game changing aids for families with college-bound children.

All at once, families will have the information they need to make college lists that are actually affordable for their financial circumstances. The College Scorecard is a complementary tool that will allow a family to use their actual federal financial aid eligibility to compare school costs before their student applies.

Never before has this been possible, and it makes me wonder why the college financial aid system ever got to the point where students were applying blindly to schools they could not afford if they were accepted. When you think about it, that’s pretty much the definition of a disfunctional system. Hate to put it so bluntly, but there you have it.

There has been a lot of fear on the part of institutions of higher education everywhere. Changing the FAFSA start-date encountered a lot of political push-back. It took a lame-duck president, looking for legacy, to pull the plug on this systemic bottleneck.

This change will cause a rapid re-examination of business plans in colleges across the country. Recruitment, budget cycles, processing aid applications and issuing awards all must happen a lot earlier.

At this time we are in the one year countdown. Next year on October 1, 2016, if all goes well, the very first “early” FAFSA applications will be filed.

Will the FAFSA-only colleges be ready? There could be a tsunami of applicants, many of whom had never considered filling out the FAFSA because of it’s complexity. There might be a lot more Pell Grant recipients, who knows? The whole FAFSA system may slow down or even malfunction (like you know what!) under the weight of applications. But, in the long run processes will smooth themselves out. Meanwhile college students will be making “aid aware” college choices that might keep the Student Loan Monster at bay!
But still, the question remains: why did we, the parents, allow such a crazy system to persist for so long? Hmmmm….

The new College Scorecard has brand new data.

Obama to Colleges: College Scorecard, it’s what you get when you shoot down my College Ranking Plan!

The new College Scorecard website was built on a data dump the size of Mt. Denali…in fact, it’s like data heaven for college data geeks!
HA! Try to put THIS genie back in the bottle.
Watch my video for a demonstration of College Scorecard’s main features.

 

Well, if this isn’t some fine payback by the Obama administration for all those who scuttled the President’s new college rating plan. And it’s so sincere and sounds so well-meaning that even the opposition is mumbling grudging kudos. But the word is out on colleges that don’t live up to their promises.

So much data, in such an easy-to-use format, built for mobile devices, rolled out just in time for students and their families to make critical decisions about colleges. Whatever the quality of the data, there will be some significant changes in the world of higher education. Tah dah!

Just in my ramblings around this new College Scorecard website at collegescorecard.ed.gov, I could not resist making a search for all medium and large “for-profit” schools. I kind of knew what the results would be, but it was worse than I thought. Apparently, nobody bothered to tell the University of Phoenix that their search results would show that EVERYONE who had attended their schools on all their campuses made salaries of $53,400 dollars after 10 years. Yep, everyone. Clerical error? Or, maybe Phoenix wants it that way.

And then I was wondering about where that data on the salaries of former students came from. And how about the data showing how former students were progressing with their loan repayments?
Well, turns out this info is new, never before seen in public. The federal government, apparently working for the common good, decided to combine the data from federal student loan borrowers with data from their tax records. This data produced lots of useful information. Some of it makes certain schools look good and some of it is very damaging for others. The data is out there for all to see and use.
I didn’t get to vote on the idea to combine this information, nor on the distribution of it. Did you?
Supposedly the personal identifiers have been removed from the data. Hope so.
Here are the assurances of privacy put forth in the data documentation for College Scorecard:

“All National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) and Treasury elements are protected for privacy purposes; any data not reported in order to protect an individual’s privacy are shown as PrivacySuppressed.”

Is “Privacy Suppressed” what they really meant to say?

I don’t know about you, but I felt like my privacy was suppressed when my data was compromised at Target and at Home Depot!

Here’s hoping for the best with this new website.

Hey, it’s better than doing nothing…maybe.

How to understand financial aid award letters

Decode College Financial Aid Awards!

Okay, what the heck! Why can’t colleges just be clear about their financial aid offers.

All across the nation, high school seniors are receiving their financial aid award letters from the colleges to which they have been accepted.

Students and parents alike will be overjoyed as they take a first glance at these letters. After all, real professionals have carefully formulated these documents for maximum obfuscation.

Many who receive these well-crafted offers will believe that their top choice college dreams have been fulfilled.

The celebrations will commence. The heady feelings will go on for days. Then, someone may point out a questionable figure in the offer, and the clouds of doubt will move in.

The family will be confused, and as usual it will fall to Mom to interpret the meaning of the cryptic line item.

Mom, the detective, must now spend hours and days on the internet seeking out experts. She will repeatedly call the college or colleges asking questions, the answers for which she has no background to make an informed interpretation.

When, through enormous effort, the bad news is revealed, and it is determined that the dream college is unaffordable, there will be WAILING. And that’s not all…there will also be DOOR SLAMMING. Shall I go on? No, I think you get the picture…

Why, why, why can’t this information be made clear right away. Get the bad news out there and move on.

Do colleges really think that families will somehow make magic money appear? Well, yes. But it will probably be the magic money known as soul-crushing student loan debt.

It’s time for all financial aid award letters to be standardized to help consumers. So far, the only thing out there is the Education Department’s Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. Thankfully, it’s being adopted, albeit slowly, by some correct-thinking colleges.

My hope for the future is that all colleges and universities get on the transparency bandwagon!

College Applications are Outta Control!

Kids binging on filling out college applications is not a pretty sight. Five new completely different essays each night after school, and when that gets old, then out comes the old “cut and paste” routine. Pretty soon a high school senior starts to think his own personal story is a work of fiction.

Exactly why this is happening has an easy answer…because they can!…thanks to the Common Application which is making it possible to crank out college applications in unprecedented numbers.

Now the hard-to-swallow answer: Nobody is helping these high school seniors, as bright as they may be, to sort through their college application lists. So with no help, seniors are not taking any chances of getting shut out of college.

As long as Mom and Dad will allow their credit cards to get filled up with application charges (at $40-90 a pop!), then students will keep applying. With no counselor to help kids understand which schools they are most likely to be accepted by, and most importantly, to help families understand which schools they might be able to afford, the binge fest will continue.

In this video, I use about one minute more than my normal three, to go down those two critical roads: acceptance probability and family affordability. Please watch to see if I nail it. Please give me comments here or email me at TheCollegeMoneyMom@gmail.com.

College Applications Runneth Over!
College Applications need to be pared down. Watch my video!

Net Price Calculators Require Patience

Just when you thought getting college financial aid information was going to be a snap, it isn’t.

Getting that piece of information about grants in order to use my “Bucket Method” of comparing college affordability is, admittedly, a bit of a challenge. The unlovely Net Price Calculators now installed by law on the websites of most every college in the U.S. are, in some cases, a display of resistance and neglect by the host entities. On one hand, I am somewhat heartened by the efforts of the College Board to standardize the format of data entry and display of this online college financial aid tool. On the other hand, I am saddened by the efforts by other third party NPC providers to use clever marketing to hoodwink prospective students into making poor choices and falling headlong into giant craters of debt. Watch this video and become your own financial aid “detective”.