Financial aid offers could be better designed to be clearer and more accessible to students, according to a recent report from the American Talent Initiative, an coalition of four-year colleges and universities, Ithaka S+R, and the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, which are focused on enrolling low-income students. The report offers 10 recommendations to improve financial aid offers.
“Transparency about affordability, college costs, and financial aid is crucial to supporting students and their families in choosing the right college,” the report reads. “Financial aid offices across the country wield a powerful tool in shaping these decisions: the financial aid offer. In theory, it should reveal if students can afford to attend, but too often it leads to confusion.”
The report suggests financial aid offers include the full cost of attendance at the top of the page and have separate, itemized lists of direct costs, such as tuition and housing prices, and indirect costs, such as books and transportation. It recommends showing how federal loans and work-study affect the amount a student owes the university, with clear explanations of aid options for students and families who may be unfamiliar with how they work.
The report notes that students would benefit from offers that direct them to institutional, state and U.S. Department of Education websites for more information about financial aid options, and including the contact information of a staff member in the financial aid office adds a personal touch. It also recommends keeping the graphic design of financial aid offers consistent with other materials for prospective students to give the offers a more welcoming appearance.