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Tuition Transparency Reform Won’t Benefit Newly-Accepted Students

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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaks during an event at the Center for American Progress.

CREDIT: Flickr / Center for American Progress

It's the time of year when prospective students are keeping a close eye on the mailbox for college acceptance—or rejection—letters. And with a number of proposed tuition transparency measures on the table but not yet law, many are also worried about how they'll pay for school.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is currently taking suggestions for a “financial aid shopping sheet” that would present tuition costs on a standardized form, and a mockup [PDF] is available on the bureau's web site. But that doesn't do any good for this year's prospective students, or current students dealing with higher-than-expected costs or tuition increases.

“Choosing the right college is a complicated decision for students and families,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in an October press release. “We want to provide them with helpful data so they can make an informed decision about where to enroll and how much debt to take on. And we want ideas on how to improve the form, which is why we are encouraging students and families to go online and give us their feedback.”

The proposed shopping sheet would weighs tuition, room and board, materials and transportation costs against grants, scholarships, loans and work study options. A major goal of the shopping sheet is to clear up the role of loans, which are sometimes subtracted from total cost in the materials presented to accepted students.

The elephant in the room is the for-profit college industry, where graduates have more debt and lower employment rates than students at traditional schools. According to critics, that's because the sector aggressively targets—and charges—nontraditional students, many of whom don't know what they're getting themselves into.

The White House is also pushing a “college scorecard” that would show students key statistics on loan repayment, graduation and employment rates for schools they are considering. Misleading data on post-graduate employment has come to the fore during a series of lawsuits by law school alums who feel they took on crushing debt without understanding the magnitude of the challenges the job market would present.

A bankruptcy lawyer trade group recently released a report on potential economic fallout from what they called the “student debt bomb” of loans forcing students and their families into default.

Jon Christian is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Christian.

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