Online tool started to compare cost of colleges

A new online tool created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will help prospective students compare the costs of different colleges by showing the amount of debt they will have after graduating, according to an April 11 press release from the Bureau.

The tool, called the Financial Aid Comparison Shopper, allows students and parents to compare the “real” cost of three colleges of the user’s choice. It factors in financial aid the student received as well as the average salary of a recent graduate to calculate the estimated debt.

“Now more than ever, students and their families need to know before they owe,” Bureau Director Richard Cordray said in an April 11 speech. “Our Financial Aid Comparison Shopper helps students make apples-to-apples comparisons of their offers and pick the one that works best for their financial future.”

Student Government President Tim McBride said the tool will be very helpful for incoming students.

“Student debt may very well be the next financial house of cards, and one necessary response to that is to ensure that all students know exactly what kind of debt they will be taking on. The more financial information on debt at students’ disposal, the better,” McBride said.

James Hare, a junior in the School of Public Affairs, agrees, though he thinks the tool could be improved.

“If I were a high school senior again and I wanted to compare how much it would cost for me to attend different schools, this would be very useful to make sense of all the big numbers thrown at you,” Hare said. “It would be better, though, if you could input your own interest rate for private loans.”

Shirleyne McDonald, the associate director of financial aid at AU, said that families should understand the Financial Aid Comparison Shopper as a broad tool, and specific schools are happy to discuss individual situations with families.

“Anything that gives students more information about education and their finances is beneficial, of course, but families must understand the sources and accuracy of the information,” she said.

The CFPB is also offering a financial aid “shopping sheet” which breaks down the cost of a particular college, including all loans and debt after graduation. Both projects have yet to be finalized, and the Bureau will have a full release depending on public input, according to Rohit Chopra, student loan ombudsman at the Bureau.

“One of the goals of the CFPB is to ensure that consumers get clear, easy-to-understand information so they can make an informed decision about what is best for them,” Chopra said.

Some parents of prospective and current students think the Financial Aid Comparison Shopper will help them in choosing the right college.

“The tool sounds really helpful,” said Andrew Filderman, a parent of an AU freshman. “It’s scandalous how many kids are coming out of college with lots of debt, and they really have no idea until it happens.”

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