If you have trouble reading the financial aid letters and awards documents that you received with your acceptance letters from colleges, you’re not alone. Colleges send vague letters with mixed messages about what it will cost to attend. One would think that colleges would write letters that inform prospective students about their financial aid offers: 1) How much they will receive in grants and scholarships each year (free money!), 2) how much they will receive in loans (money to pay back after graduation), 3) how much their parents can borrow (money that parents back in monthly installments), and 4) work/study and student employment (paid jobs on campus). After all, wouldn’t colleges want students to get their degrees and prosper?
Doesn’t look like they do.
UAspire, a nonprofit company that promotes college access and affordability, recently reviewed 11,000 financial aid award letters from 900 colleges. They found that one third of these financial aid letters didn’t define what type of money the student was to receive (loans and grants) and camouflaged parent contributions by subtracting their financial responsibility from the total cost (making it look like the parents didn’t have to pay anything!). Other letters didn’t use the words “loan” and some didn’t indicate the total cost of attending.
When you have super excited kids wanting to attend colleges that are out of their family’s financial comfort zone, many students accept offers before realizing the incredible debt they will face upon graduation. For the poorest families, college tuition took about 20% of their income back in 1990, but today, tuition takes about 75%. This is creating a deep divide between those who can afford college and those who can’t. Do we really want a college education for just the wealthy?