Vice President Joe Biden hosted a panel of educators at the White House this week to discuss the importance of making college financial aid packages easy for students to evaluate and compare. Also participating in the discussion were U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the head of the Consumer Protection Agency Richard Cordray, along with several other administration officials.
Vice President Biden spoke to reporters afterwords about his own experience as a student of a low-income father who, nonetheless had an income level too high to qualify to government sponsored student loans. He also stressed that financial aid, both government and public, was the key to higher education not only for him, but for his wife Jill, and for President Obama and his wife Michelle. Both couples come from families that couldn’t afford to cover even a portion of the college tuition, and all four depended on scholarships and student loans to cover their undergraduate and graduate school costs.
“It’s not just about getting your child qualified, to get opportunity, to get an education. Some of you are like Arne and me and others, you come from circumstances where you know full well that you will not have had any chance, any chance at all at your positions you now have, were it not for the fact there was somebody there to give you some college assistance, advice, loans, grants, scholarships,” he said.
Freeing up more money for student aid was one of Biden’s first accomplishments as a Vice President. He shepherded a legislation through Congress that reduced bank subsidies by $60 million and redirected that money towards the federal financial aid program. As as a result, the number of students who received Pell grants rose by nearly a third to 9 million.
The goal of today’s meeting was to get college administrators to commit to organizing their financial aid letters in a similar, previously-agreed-on, format that clearly lays out the information such as the total cost of college for next year, including tuition, fees and estimated costs of academic materials like textbooks and the sum total of the offered financial aid, clearly broken down between loans and grants. The letter should also show the total costs after the aid has been deducted and the estimated monthly loan payments once the student begins repayment after graduation.
The college leaders expressed their commitment to adopting the new financial letter format, in time for the admissions class that will begin classes in the fall of 2013. Among the attendees were the representatives of the public university systems of Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Arizona, and Texas, and some representing private higher-ed institutions like Catharine Hill, President of Vassar College and Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Syracuse University.