Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced that already more than 300 institutions have voluntarily adopted the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet for the 2013-14 school year. The Shopping Sheet is an individualized financial aid award letter in a standardized format that helps students understand their costs and compare financial aid packages from different institutions so they can make smart decisions on investing in higher education. The schools that have adopted the Shopping Sheet so far represent more than 1.9 million students--about 10 percent of the total undergraduate population.
The Obama Administration unveiled the 2013-14 version of the Shopping Sheet in July. In coordination with this announcement, Education Secretary Arne Duncan published an open letter to college and university presidents asking institutions to adopt the Shopping Sheet as part of their financial aid award packages starting for the 2013-14 school year. To date, 316 institutions have voluntarily adopted the Shopping Sheet, representing 2- and 4-year institutions nationwide from all sectors of higher education.
"Our goal is to help students arrive at school each fall less worried about how they will pay for college, and more focused on how they will complete college," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "Institutions share that goal, and many have shown their support by joining their colleagues across the country that have already agreed to adopt the Shopping Sheet. The Shopping Sheet will make it dramatically easier for students to both understand and compare costs at different institutions--and ultimately enroll in the college that is the best fit for them."
In today's economy, a higher education is a prerequisite for success, representing the clearest pathway into the middle class. But too often students and families face the difficult task of deciding where to enroll without a clear explanation of what college costs mean, or how they compare to the cost of other colleges they are considering. As a result, too many students leave college with debt that they didn't fully understand at the time they entered school. While many financial aid award letters provide understandable information, some can be confusing, lacking clear distinctions between grants and loans, private versus public loans, and information about post-graduate outcomes. This confusion can make it difficult for students to understand the true cost of their education and ultimately decide which college is the best fit for them.
The Shopping Sheet makes the costs and responsibilities of student loans clear upfront, outlining total estimated annual costs, institutional rates of completion and default, and information about a student's potential monthly loan payments after graduation. Colleges and universities that have adopted the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet are empowering students and their families with useful information to help them make a more informed decision about where to attend college and to help them better understand the debt burdens they may face after graduation.
President Obama has set a goal for our nation to lead the world in college completion by the end of this decade, and making college more affordable for American families is a critical component of the President's plans for higher education. While states and institutions share responsibility to keep down the rising cost of college, improved consumer disclosure tools can ensure that students and families make more informed decisions when investing in higher education. Along with the Shopping Sheet, the Education Department released additional tools this summer to help students better understand their federal student loan debt, including an interactive financial awareness counseling tool that helps students learn more about their loans, manage their budget, choose the best repayment plan for them, and avoid default.
In addition to the 316 institutions that have already committed to providing the Shopping Sheet to their students, colleges that sign on to the Principles of Excellence for Serving Military and Veterans will also begin using this form for the 2013-14 school year.
Institutions interested in adopting the Shopping Sheet may contact the U.S. Department of Education at ShoppingSheet@ed.gov for additional information. To view the full list of schools who have signed onto the Shopping Sheet as of today, visit the Department's blog.