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Iowa Views: Grassley/Ernst bills promote transparency in cost of college

Iowa Views: Grassley/Ernst bills promote transparency in cost of college

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The followed editorial appeared in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald on May 12:

If you listen closely, you might make out the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” being rehearsed by area high school bands as students prepare for graduation.

After super-weird junior and senior years, the Class of 2021 is gearing up for graduation and getting ready to move on. By now, most have an idea of what that next step looks like, and for the many students heading off to an institution of higher education, choosing the right school was a decision they labored over.

No doubt the most difficult piece of that decision was sorting out how to cover the ever-rising cost of college. Sometimes, even determining what that cost will be and how it compares to other colleges that a student is considering can be difficult to determine.

That’s why Iowa’s U.S. senators have introduced three bills that would make it easier for parents and students to understand the true cost of higher education. At the same time, the Student Loan Disclosure Modernization Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The measures put forth by Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst focus on three key areas:

1) College websites are required to include a button labeled “net cost calculator,” though they aren’t always easy to find. Further, figuring out how to use the tool and whether the price it shows a user is accurate can be complicated. That’s why the senators are calling for a Net Price Calculator Improvement Act.

2) The next component, Understanding the True Cost of College Act, would require schools to use uniform terminology and a standard format when presenting students with financial aid offers. It’s not uncommon for current offers to come through with little delineation between what part is a loan and what part is a grant. Throw in work-study and scholarships, and it can be difficult to see the true cost and whether all the listed funding mechanisms are applicable for four years of school. This act would fix those issues.

3) The other piece is related to an area in which all young people can afford to increase their knowledge — financial literacy. The Know Before You Owe Federal Student Loan Act would spell out not just the loan totals anticipated, but what repayment of those loans would look like. Under this measure, a borrower would be shown how payments will stack up against projected income and other expenses such as housing and health care. This process will give students a better grasp on the debt to which they are committing.

These changes come on the heels of Congress dismantling the parental nightmare that is the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. What was once a daunting 108 questions has been cut down to one-third the size.

Cumulatively, these changes will make it easier for students and parents to make difficult decisions by allowing them to view the financials of each institution side by side in an apples-to-apples comparison.

Grassley has long been an advocate of transparency in government. Here’s an opportunity to shine a light on the costs of higher education and student debt so that parents and prospective college students can make informed decisions.

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