Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

New Consumer Tool Offers Help in Comparing College Costs

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

New Consumer Tool Offers Help in Comparing College Costs

Article excerpt

For more than 1 million high school seniors--including many low-income students--the spring season means decision time in selecting a college for next year. But wading through competing and complex financial aid packages can bring even more confusion, which is one reason the federal government is offering a new online tool to help families make these critical decisions.

The new Financial Aid Comparison Shopper is an interactive tool for students and their parents to compare costs between individual colleges and universities. Students can enter tuition and room and board costs as well as details from financial aid award letters so they can compare the remaining costs that will require family contributions and student loans.

"Student debt is increasing, and there is a lack of clear, concise information that actually helps students make the best financial choices," said Rich Williams, higher education advocate at US PIRG.

The comparison shopper, he told Diverse, is "a really cool idea for students to plug in numbers and look at the amount of loans they might need. It's a unique experience."

Users to the site enter in one or more higher education institutions and the system provides current tuition, room and board and other costs. Students then can enter detailed information from their financial aid offers, including, amount of Pell Grant aid and other scholarships.

For each institution, the system also can provide information on students' estimated monthly loan repayments after graduation.

The web tool is a product of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), created in 2010 as part of the Obama administrations efforts to promote accountability in the financial services industry. CFPB has identified private student loans as one area of college finance that needs additional oversight to protect consumers, and the bureau has begun accepting complaints against private lenders.

"Student loan debt has crossed the $1 trillion mark and tuition continues to climb," said Richard Cordray, CFPB director. "Now more than ever, students and their families need to know before they owe."

The Financial Aid Comparison Shopper also has several unique offerings. For example:

* A "military benefit calculator" can estimate education benefits for servicemembers, veterans, and their families based on military tuition assistance and benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill. …

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