More tuition, less aid

By The Columbia Chronicle

As many students struggle to fund their college education, some activists and professors argue that the distribution of loan and grant money, along with limited access to entrance and exit counseling, is causing problems for students.

An Oct. 11 report from the National Economic Research Association found that 40 percent of the 27,000 college students polled had not received any exit counseling regarding loan debt, which has surpassed $1 trillion nationally. A separate report issued by the State of Higher Education Executive Office found that funding had decreased 24.5 percent from 2000 to 2010, which prompted many colleges to raise tuition while eliminating courses and instructors, according to Rory O’Sullivan, policy director of Young Invincibles, an organization that seeks to provide 18–34-year-olds equal opportunities and proper representation in the United States.

He said the report details how public policy impacts financial aid distribution.

“Young Invincibles wants to see more public investment in institutions to increase their financial standing and better provide interest-free money, [such as grants] for students,” O’Sullivan said.

According to him, students need to be more educated about the steep responsibility inherent in borrowing money and the consequences of private loans.

“A role for students to take is to plan an advocacy effort at their institution,” O’Sullivan said. “By assuming that role, students would help themselves by being more active in attaining proper guidance throughout the financial aid process.”

He offered that students should raise awareness to push their institution to provide the proper loan counseling, which are required by law to be provided to entering freshmen and graduating seniors.

But Jon Fansmith, associate director of the Office of Government Relations in Washington D.C., said for students to understand their award letters, they must take individual responsibility for making sure a loan is the best option for funding their education.

He said institutions in the U.S. vary in the amounts of money they give to students through grants, which confuses students when they receive award letters or transfer to

other colleges.

The Obama administration created the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, a standardized award letter that institutions can voluntarily adopt. It’s meant to make it easier for students to understand their letters and compare financial aid from other institutions.

The Shopping Sheet for the 2013-2014 school year is currently used by 316 of the approximately 2,500 accredited institutions in the US, according to a Sept. 25 press release.

“Financial aid officers are very hesitant about the [Shopping Sheet] and [if] the institution provides students with an award letter that ends up being a different amount of what the student actually receives, then it’s considered lying,” said Sara Goldbrick-Rab, a professor of educational policy and sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

She said that colleges need to be more clear when awarding aid to students.

“Institutions provide aid and pretend like it’s effective even though tuition rates are rising,” Goldrick-Rab said. “In all actuality, the aid students are getting doesn’t save them money at all.”