A Focus on College Affordability

In today's post, guest blogger, Robert Weinerman, College Coach's senior director of college finance and former financial aid officer at MIT and Babson, discusses a Presidential initiative to make college more affordable to students. 

President Obama just released a plan designed to encourage colleges to reduce their costs, increase affordability, and increase access for lower income students by requiring schools to report their successes and failures and rate them on outcomes like aggregate graduation rates, starting salaries of recent graduates, affordability, and accessibility for students eligible for federal Pell Grants (a federal program available to students from low income households). Colleges that rank highly on these measures would increase access to federal financial aid programs for their students, while lower ranked schools would see aid levels available to students drop.

The question is: will this reporting be useful to individual families trying to find the right college education for a college-bound student?

This is an interesting development for employees worried about their children's future and for everyone concerned about access to higher education. College affordability is an issue we discuss at College Coach every day, and we applaud any efforts to standardize the way colleges report information such as average cost, student and parent loan debt at graduation, and average scholarship or grant awards.

What to Expect

I would caution families not to get too excited about having more access to this information and to keep it in perspective. No matter what a college's averages are, families will be faced with specific and unique financial aid packages that need to be individually analyzed. While we hope colleges that score low on affordability rankings will work to increase need-based aid availability and reduce levels of educational loan borrowing among its students, parents and students will always have to consider if the specific level of financial aid provided by the college makes the college affordable to them.

As such, the President's proposal promises to have the most potential in terms of the outcomes ranking. Families will benefit if colleges are required to define and report statistical information on elements such as graduation rates, graduate and professional school placement rates, retention rates (the percentage of students who enter as freshman that return as sophomores), and transfer rates.

The right advising matters more than a single number

College Coach experts already help families decide whether the college education options available to their children will get prospective students to the careers or post-undergraduate education experiences that they want. Still, we remind families that you do not have to, in fact you shouldn't, wait for these statistics to make good choices about where students should go to college. Families should think carefully about their children's personal goals, and whether the colleges they are considering will be able to help children obtain the specific careers or post-graduate educations they hope to get out of his or her college experience.

This is where personal guidance can be a factor in more than any single statistic. At College Coach, we provide not just the numbers, but the guidance to help students and families understand the admissions process to both increase their chances of admissions and to find a place that will help them achieve their future goals.
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