Oklahoma university officials say they're receptive to a proposal designed to make the financial aid process more transparent and easier to understand.
U.S. Department of Education officials unveiled Tuesday the Obama administration's model financial aid letter, called the Shopping Sheet. The model letter gives prospective students a breakdown of every part of their financial aid packages, including grants, scholarships and federal loans.
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the model would standardize university admissions letters, giving students an easy way to compare financial aid packages offered by different schools. Students would be better equipped to make educated predictions about how much they can expect to pay and how much debt they'll incur, he said.
“Countless students I meet across the country feel like the first time they really understood how much student loan debt they were in was when the first bill arrived,” he said. “We must unravel the mystery of higher education pricing by giving students and families the information they need to make smart educational choices.”
Colleges and universities won't be required to adopt the letter.
In a Tuesday letter to college presidents, Duncan urged colleges and universities to adopt the model for their financial aid letters beginning with the 2013-2014 academic year.
The letter includes an itemized list of how much students could expect to pay the first year, including tuition and fees, room and board and books. It lists all grants and scholarships available and the net cost the student is left to pay.
It also includes how much the student's family could pay according to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, as well as available options for the remaining cost, including work-study programs, loans and military service benefits.
Also included in the model letter is information on the institution itself, such as six-year graduation rates, the percentage of student loan borrowers who default on their loans and the median amount students borrow to go to school.
Matt Hamilton, the University of Oklahoma's vice president for enrollment and student financial services, said OU's financial aid letter gives students nearly all the information in the Shopping Sheet model.
OU's letter doesn't include the net price the student could expect to pay, he said, but students can get that information by using the net price calculator on the university's website.
Hamilton said he thinks the Shopping Sheet model is easy to read and understand. OU officials will be looking more at the model to find ways to tailor OU's letter to the model.
University of Central Oklahoma officials also plan to determine how the model could be adapted, said UCO spokeswoman Adrienne Nobles. UCO financial aid officials only became aware of the new model Tuesday, she said.
Matt Short, associate director of scholarships and financial aid at Oklahoma State University, said OSU also doesn't yet have plans for if and how the university would adopt the model.
OSU's current financial aid letter includes a breakdown of all awards available to students. The letter doesn't include information such as six-year graduation rates and student loan default rates, he said, but the letter sent to new students includes directions on finding such information on the university's website.
“We include a lot of information,” he said. “It's pretty extensive.”
We must unravel the mystery of higher education pricing by giving students and families the information they need to make smart educational choices.”