In an effort to improve the clarity and consistency of student financial aid offers, NASFAA — along with 10 higher education associations representing college presidents, financial aid offices, enrollment managers, and admissions counselors — today launched a task force with the goal of creating a set of principles and standards about what information should be included in institutional aid offers so the resulting documents are clear, meet high standards of transparency, and contain consumer friendly information, while still allowing for institutional customization.
The “Paying for College Transparency Initiative” is supported by NASFAA, the American Council on Education (ACE), and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), and is joined by the leaders from the following associations and organizations: the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), the National Association of System Heads (NASH), and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO). The task force is also supported and informed by financial aid, admissions, and enrollment managers from a diverse set of institutions. NASFAA is represented by Alex Delonis, Wabash College; Derek Kindle, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Billie Jo Hamilton, University of South Florida; Scott Cline, California College of the Arts; and JoEllen Price, Houston Community College.
While NASFAA has undertaken foundational work on aid offers — including in the development of NASFAA’s Code of Conduct, which includes aid offer standards aimed at improving transparency and clarity as a condition of NASFAA membership — there is still work to be done. Institutions of higher education have latitude to develop their financial aid offers in a way that considers various factors, including the types of educational programs they offer and the population of students they serve. While these aid offers may be best suited for unique student populations, it can make the process of comparing aid offers from different institutions more difficult for prospective students.
This difficulty has sparked conversation in the higher education community and in recent years, aid offers have come under scrutiny for lack of clarity, potentially leading to students and families misunderstanding basic concepts, like the difference between grants and loans. National news organizations, research organizations and think tanks, and government accountability offices have all taken an interest in the transparency and clarity of financial aid offers. Congress has also taken note, proposing various forms of legislation ranging from broadly defining common terms and definitions to stipulating every element, down to the font size, that must be included in an aid offer.
This newly formed national task force will focus on creating a set of financial aid offer principles and standards to ensure students can easily understand how much a postsecondary education will cost and more readily compare aid offers from various institutions.