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Congress Proposes Cutting Student Financial Aid in FY2012 Federal Education Budget

Mark Kantrowitz

October 03, 2011

Standardizing Financial Aid Award Letters

The following is an excerpt from Senate Report 112-084 on the legislation. It concerns financial aid award letters and other disclosure requirements. The legislation will require the U.S. Department of Education to make recommendations for improvements in these disclosures.

The Committee is concerned about the lack of useful, accurate and comparable information available to students regarding postsecondary education opportunities. Despite Higher Education Act [HEA] requirements on institutions of higher learning to disclose certain student outcome data and the efforts of the Department to make the National Center for Education Statistic’s College Navigator site more robust, students still have difficulty obtaining the information they need to make well-informed decisions on where to invest their time and financial resources. This is especially true for low-income students who may be the first in their family to attend college. These students often have difficulty finding the College Navigator site and other free resources to aid in the college search process. Better information on student outcomes is also important for policymakers who are facing difficult decisions on where to invest scarce taxpayer resources.

Transfer rates, completion rates for part-time and transfer students, and rates of students who successfully complete developmental courses are among the factors that would assist students and policymakers in determining which institutions are serving students best. Information such as graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients, regardless of their first-time, full-time status, would help students and policymakers determine which postsecondary education choices provide the best outcomes for low-income students.

The Committee is aware that some institutions of higher education are not disclosing information to students as required by the HEA. While there are institutions not meeting these obligations, others may be technically in compliance with the law but provide information in formats that are very difficult for students to find and understand. Even more of a challenge to students is comparing information across the institutions they are considering, since the information is not disclosed consistently. Additionally, because there is no systematic effort to evaluate whether all institutions are in compliance, the Committee is concerned that many schools may be violating HEA disclosure requirements.

The Committee strongly believes better tools can and should be developed through the use of technology to assist students who are making the important decision of where to enroll in postsecondary education. The Committee also believes more can be done to evaluate which institutions are following not only the letter but the spirit of the law. The Committee requests that the Department submit a report describing how disclosure requirements can be improved by June 30, 2012. The report should also address how technology can be used to more thoroughly evaluate compliance with the HEA.


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