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President Hill Attends White House Financial Aid Meeting

President Catharine Hill.

On June 5, President Catharine Hill joined U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and nine other college and university presidents for a White House meeting about financial aid transparency. Other participating colleges and universities in the Northeast include Syracuse University, the State University of New York system, and the University of Massachusetts system.

The White House initiative encourages participating colleges to provide clearer, more useful, and more consistent cost and financial aid information. The push is designed to help students and their families make the best decisions about where to enroll, complete with a solid understanding of the financial commitment they’re taking on.

“As presidents we endorsed this transparency for our institutions and it is our hope that other institutions will do the same,” says Hill. “I am very proud that Vassar’s commitment to financial aid and access was recognized by the White House.”

The effort takes shape starting with financial aid packages offered to students matriculating for the 2013-2014 school year. Students will receive a financial aid overview based on a “Financial Aid Shopping Sheet,” developed by the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and with input from students, families, and members of the higher education community. The overview includes:

  • How much one year of college will cost
  • Financial aid options, with a clear distinction made between grants and scholarships (not repaid) and loans (which must be repaid)
  • Net costs after grants and scholarships
  • Estimated monthly payments likely to be owed on federal student loans after graduation
  • Vital information with respect to student results, such as enrollment, graduation, and loan repayment rates for a given institution

A central theme of this information is to make it easier for students and families to compare institutions and the aid packages they offer side-by-side. “It would be a no-brainer for schools to use,” President Hill told the Chronicle of Higher Education, assuming colleges and universities could agree on a sensible final version of the shopping sheet.

The financial aid transparency initiative has garnered widespread attention, including at Inside Higher Ed, the Chicago Tribune, HuffingtonPost, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, and Politico. The initiative comes as students on the average are borrowing more to attend college nationwide—about 2/3 of bachelor’s recipients borrow money, graduating with an average debt of more than $26,000 in federal and private student loans—according to a White House press release. In addition, U.S. lawmakers currently face the prospect of doubling student loan interest rates from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent if they don’t extend a rate freeze before it expires on July 1, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Last year, Vassar provided roughly $53 million in need-based scholarship grant aid, supporting more than 60% of the college’s students, with an average grant of almost $35,000. That number is nearly double the grant aid provided five years ago, and accounted for more than 25% of the college’s operating budget for the current fiscal year.

–Peter Bronski

Image © Vassar College / John Abbott