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Government redesigns student award letters

To combat the rising costs of college and to promote financial clarity, President Obama and the Department of Education unveiled the “Shopping Sheet” in July.

The education department partnered with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to create a standardized award letter. All colleges and universities are requested to use this by the 2013-2014 school year.

David Burney, John Brown University’s assistant director of financial aid, said he learned about the shopping sheet at a national financial aid conference, held in case this request is later required by law.

“The shopping sheet would place additional requirements on the average award letter,” Burney explained. “John Brown University already gives students a lot of the required information on its website, and some in the award letter.”

Some of the additional requirements of this shopping sheet are educational statistics, full budget information, fees and loan repayment details.

“The government hopes this standardized letter would equalize the playing field,” Burney said.

While understanding higher education financial aid is rarely simple, some schools were giving complicated or even incorrect information to potential students. The government’s solution is this shopping sheet, a template released by the Department of Education and found on their website.

While the goal is to provide clarity for students, Burney believes it might include too much information, thereby making it confusing all over again. He said the University tries to make all information easily accessible, but not so much that it overwhelms students.

Senior Andrew Goff thinks the University’s current format of award letters is not confusing.

“I can understand the complication from certain schools, such as having poor layout or hard to find information or understanding it,” Goff said. “But if it’s a matter of incorrect information going out, that’s something a new page layout won’t fix.”

In that case, subjecting schools like John Brown University who already provide accurate and understandable financial information to a template does not seem necessary, Goff said.

However, he said, the template is “clear and clean-cut. If JBU has to use that format, it probably won’t matter very much from a students’ perspective.”

Burney said the University tries to build a partnership between the business office, the financial aid office and the prospective student to provide the information the student needs on loan debt, repayment options, scholarships and grants.

“We don’t want students accepting something blindly, so we work to be open and available,” Burney said. “Financial aid is an ever-changing climate and can be complicated. We try to give our students the best information possible.”

The proposed financial aid shopping sheet is available at collegecost.ed.gov