Road to College: Summer Tips for Rising Seniors

college arne quoteYes, soon-to-be high school seniors- your time has come! As you bask in the excitement of the upcoming year, set aside time this summer to lay the groundwork for a smooth college process. Trust me, you will be thankful you did later!

With all the information available for seniors, it’s essential for students and their families to take advantage of the tools that can help best inform you on taking the right path for secondary education.

Here are tips & tools from ED to get a head start this summer:

Tip: Search for the type of college that will best suit you. Narrow down the program, size, type, location, and tuition cost of colleges, this will help you zero in on a concise list of institutions to apply to come fall.

  • College ScorecardIncludes information about a particular college’s cost, its graduation rates and the average amount its students borrow. It is designed to help you compare colleges and choose one that is well-suited to your individual needs.

Tip: Research the tuition and fees of the institutions that top your college list. This will help give you and your family a clearer view of the potential cost of each institution right from the start of the college process.

  • College Affordability and Transparency Center: ED has compiled lists of institutions based on the tuition and fees and net prices (the price of attendance after considering all grant and scholarship aid) charged to students.

Tip: It is never too early to look for scholarships! Some deadlines are as early as a year before college starts, so take time this summer to research and begin applying for scholarships.

  • Federal Student Aid: There are thousands of scholarships, from all kinds of organizations; Federal Student Aid provides tips and resources to help you find scholarships you may be eligible for.

Kelsey Donohue works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Duncan to Grads: Follow Your Passion

Duncan at Morgan State

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered this year’s commencement speech at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.

Summer is here and as recent grads take time to pause and reflect on their tenure in higher education, many may wonder what they will do with the rest of their lives and how they will use their degrees.

Follow your passion and help others. This was the common theme in Secretary Arne Duncan’s four commencement speeches this spring.

At the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Morgan State University, the College of the Menominee Nation, and Hostos Community College, the Secretary lauded athletic titles to academic championships.  He highlighted those that were the first in their families to graduate from college and at Morgan State University, touted the mother-daughter duo who earned their bachelors’ degrees on the same day.

“I did learn two valuable lessons in thinking about the future from my teachers, my family, and my mentors,” Duncan said at Morgan State University.

First, I learned the importance of following your passion — that your ability to adapt and be creative, to skillfully manage the inevitable uncertainty that would come, would, in large measure, determine one’s success in a knowledge-based, global economy…. Second, I learned I should strive to lead a life of consequence — to try to demonstrate my respect and gratitude to all those who had helped me growing up by working to help others.”

The Secretary expressed hope that graduates would run for school board, become teachers or tutor students so that they could positively affect their communities through education, regardless of the career path they take. He told graduates at the College of Menominee Nation that they were “a gift to [their] people,” but that with that gift came responsibilities and obligations to give back to one’s community.

He echoed this same call for action during his speech at Hostos Community College when speaking about the school’s namesake, Eugenio Maria de Hostos.

“For de Hostos, education was not just about getting a degree, it was about what you did with your degree,” said Duncan.

Duncan mentioned in more than one speech how the Obama Administration is committed to preserving investments in federal student aid and will continue to empower students and families through tools such as the College Scorecard and the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.

Other tools include programs such as Income Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn that can cap federal student loan payments at ten percent of a student’s income, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness which forgives student loan debt after working in the public sector.

Below are links to Secretary Arne Duncan’s commencement speeches this spring:

Robert Gomez is the higher education and youth liaison at the Department of Education and a graduate of the University of California, Irvine

Class of 2013: Graduate with Peace of Mind

This was originally posted on the HealthCare.gov blog.

To the Class of 2013:

Congratulations on a well-earned graduation. I know how much hard work it took to get here today.HealthCare

This is a time when you’re making big decisions about the future. You might be embarking on a new career, transitioning to a different city, and thinking about the start of this next exciting stage in life.

I’m sure the last thing you’re thinking about is health insurance. But unfortunately, the unexpected can happen.

The good news is that now the Affordable Care Act provides protections and benefits that give you greater control of your health care.  The law helps you by:

  • Making it possible to stay on your parent’s health plan until you turn 26, giving you the flexibility to make choices about your future without worrying about where you’re going to get health insurance.
  • Requiring most insurance plans to cover proven preventive services—like birth control and certain cancer screenings—without you paying a penny.
  • Barring insurers, beginning in 2014, from denying you coverage because of a pre-existing condition, like cancer, asthma, or acne, or making you pay more just because you are a woman.
  • Creating an online Health Insurance Marketplace, where you can find coverage that meets your needs and budget. You can also find out if you qualify for financial assistance.Sign up now at HealthCare.gov for updates; enrollment begins October 1, 2013.

Bottom line: Because of the Affordable Care Act, you’ll be able to begin this next chapter of your life with the peace of mind and security health insurance provides.

Congratulations on your achievement!

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services

Steps Forward to Improving Quality and Strengthening Accreditation

Every student who wants the opportunity deserves a high-quality postsecondary education. For what? For lifelong success, not only in his or her educational pursuits, but for long-term success in the workforce, in civic life and – ultimately – for the personal and professional rewards that come from living a life of accomplishment, contribution, and satisfaction! At the U.S. Department of Education, we are keenly focused on how to use the various federal levers for change and improvement at our disposal to encourage successful student outcomes and improved educational performance, institutional, state-level and national. As the president has said, we all share responsibility to provide educational opportunity and value. The accreditation community is an important partner in this work and plays a key role both in assuring a basic level of quality and in improving quality.univeristy photo

While the United States has some of the world’s best postsecondary institutions, we also have too many that are of poor quality, with track records that give their students little chance of attaining the postsecondary credentials and preparation that they intended to earn—and that are so vital in today’s society and economy.  The College Scorecard that we introduced earlier this year highlights the differences among different institutions related to net price, degree completion and student debt repayment all too starkly. Making performance transparent is a lever we are using to highlight success and fix the most pressing of our problems.

But these indicators are only indicative of a part of educational performance.  We also need to know whether students are successfully achieving the level of learning they need for lifelong success in work, civic participation, and life.  And we need to ensure that high-quality learning is affordable.

President Obama and Secretary Duncan are strongly committed to strengthening collaboration for results with the nation’s diverse accreditation stakeholders to clarify, simplify and improve accreditation processes, with a more targeted, rigorous focus on value and affordability. When President Obama announced his proposals for the FY2014 budget, he called on the accreditation community to work with the Administration to:

“…consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.”

Responding to recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), last week our Department announced its intention to strengthen and better focus the accrediting agency recognition process.  Eight regional and 47 national accrediting organizations seeking renewal of their recognition from the federal government will benefit from a streamlined review process, which will focus in more depth on about 25 of up to 93 criteria that are most relevant to assessing institutional quality and the quality of student learning. This will result in a better, more targeted process that is simpler and less burdensome for accrediting agencies, NACIQI and the federal government. It is our hope and expectation that these improvements will also enable the postsecondary institutions they accredit to focus additional time and effort on quality enhancement and value.

With the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act commencing next year, the Department is also eager to engage in broader conversations with the postsecondary education community and its stakeholders (e.g., students, families, businesses, non-profits, states, philanthropies, etc.) about proposals to improve the accreditation processes to increase quality—with particular attention to value and affordability.

If we define value as high quality at an affordable cost, how can we help to ensure that we achieve it?  We are looking to the accreditation community and stakeholders to help us understand and measure such concepts as “quality,” “affordability” and “value” in ways that honor and preserve the diversity of our postsecondary landscape, yet hold all of us accountable for learning and completion outcomes and their improvement. We need far more attention to qualitative and quantitative methods that can strengthen institutional quality and student learning outcomes.

This effort to strengthen the accreditation process is just one example of how the Department is working to improve quality, while also increasing access, affordability, and completion. We will also continue to address value by encouraging innovation, whether through new developments in competency-based education, new validation models that can demonstrate what students know and can do, new attention to the faculty role in high quality learning, and/or alternative accreditation systems designed to produce high quality student outcomes at an affordable price. Experimentation, innovation and reliable evidence must drive the effort to achieve better student outcomes, both in terms of completion and in terms of demonstrated achievement; thus the great need for more and better postsecondary R&D.

In the months ahead, we look forward to engaging in an ongoing and robust national dialogue with our partners and stakeholders about accreditation and other ways we can improve quality in America’s postsecondary education, with a far clearer understanding of, and focus on, value and affordability.

Martha J. Kanter is the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and David Soo is a Policy Advisor for the Office of the Under Secretary.

What Is a Student Loan Servicer and Why Should I Care?

repayment plan imageSo you took out a federal student loan and now it’s time to pay it back. I was in your exact position 2 years ago and even though I was working at Federal Student Aid, the student loan repayment process had me overwhelmed.

One of my first questions was: Why am I receiving federal student loan bills from a company rather than the U.S. Department of Education? If you have asked yourself a similar question, this may help:

What is a loan servicer?

A loan servicer is a company that handles the billing and other services on your federal student loans. So those bills you get in the mail? There is a good chance they are coming from a loan servicer on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education.

How do I find out who my loan servicer is?

To view information about all of the federal student loans you have received and to find contact information for your loan servicer, visit www.nslds.ed.gov and select “Financial Aid Review.” You will then be prompted to log in using your Federal Student Aid PIN, so make sure you have that handy.

Note: If you have multiple federal student loans, you may have more than one loan servicer, so make sure you click through each loan individually for information specific to that loan.

Why should I care?

There are lots of reasons you should care!  Among many other things, your loan servicer

Moral of the story: Keep in contact with your loan servicer.

The student loan repayment process can be confusing, especially if you’re new at it, but your loan servicer is there to help. Make sure you stay in touch with them and use the resources they have available for you.

Nicole Callahan is a new media analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

4 Things to Do During Your Student Loan Grace Period

Grace 6 month 9 monthYour student loan grace period is a set amount of time after you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment before you must begin repayment on your loan. For most student loans, the grace period is six months but in some instances, a grace period could be longer. The grace period gives you time to get financially settled and to select your repayment plan.*

Here are four things you can do during your grace period to prepare for repayment:

1. Get Organized

Start by tracking down all of your student loans. There is a website that allows you to view all your federal student loans in one place.

You can log into www.nslds.ed.gov using your Federal Student Aid PIN to view your loan balances, information about your loan servicer(s), and more.

Note: Don’t forget to check to see if you have private student loans.

2. Contact Your Loan Servicer

loan servicer is a company that handles the billing and other services on your federal student loan. Your loan servicer can help you choose a repayment plan, understand loan consolidation, and complete other tasks related to your federal student loan, so it is important to maintain contact with your loan servicer. If your circumstances change at any time during your repayment period, your loan servicer will be able to help.

To find out who your loan servicer is, visit nslds.ed.gov. You may have more than one loan servicer, so it is important that you look at each loan individually.

3. Estimate Your Monthly Payments Under Different Repayment Plans

Federal Student Aid recently launched a Repayment Estimator that lets you compare your monthly student loan payment under different repayment plans to help you figure out which repayment plan is right for you.

Just go to www.StudentLoans.gov –> Log in –> Click “Repayment Estimator” in bottom left corner. It will pull in all of your federal student loan information automatically so you can compare repayment plans based on your specific situation.

4. Select The Repayment Plan That Works For You

Although you may select or be assigned a repayment plan when you first begin repaying your student loan, you can change repayment plans at any time. Flexible repayment options are one of the greatest benefits of federal student loans. There are options to tie your monthly payments to your income and even ways you can have your loans forgiven if you are a teacher or employed in certain public service jobs. Once you have determined which repayment plan is right for you, you must contact your loan servicer to officially select a new repayment plan.

* Not all federal student loans have a grace period. Note that for many loans, interest will accrue during your grace period.

Nicole Callahan is a new media analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Youth Succeed with Great Educators, Help from ED

Think back to that moment when you decided to pursue your dream. Who influenced your decision? A mentor? A parent? Or maybe a friend? For many people, their moment was sparked by an educator.

Earlier this month, the Department of Education (ED) welcomed four individuals to participate in an ‘ED Youth Voices’ panel discussion that introduced students, teachers, and communities to the policies and programs that the four youth credit with helping them succeed.

Let us introduce you to these inspiring individuals:

Student speaking

Linda Moktoi, senior at Trinity Washington University

Meet Linda Moktoi. As a current senior at Trinity Washington University, Moktoi is proud to say she’ll be achieving her dream of graduating college in just a few short weeks.  “I chose to pursue knowledge over ignorance,” she said. Moktoi did so with the financial support provided by Pell Grants from ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid. Moktoi’s grace, confidence, and determination shined through and will no doubt lead her to succeeding her next dream of becoming a news broadcaster.

 

 

Student speaking about GEAR UP program

Nicholas Robinson, junior at Potomac High School

Meet Nicholas Robinson. An enthusiastic junior at Potomac High School (Oxon Hill, Md.), spoke of how the early awareness college prep program GEAR UP, changed his “mind & heart” in 8th grade about whether to go to college. “Before I got involved in GEAR UP, I didn’t think I was going to college, but they were always asking me what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be.” That extra support and guidance has helped Nicholas stay on track to graduate and focus on his future goals.

 

Educator speaking about IDEA Act

Scott Wilburn, teacher at Pulley Career Center

Meet Scott Wilbur. As a current teacher and former student that struggled with learning disabilities, Wilbur shed light on how programs funded by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) helped him as a student and continues to help him serve others with disabilities as a teacher at the Pulley Career Center in Alexandria, Va. “IDEA provided me with access to support, helped me graduate college,” Wilbur said. Each year the IDEA Act helps thousands of students with disabilities receive support to assure success in the classroom and that they have the tools needed for employment and independent living in the future.

Student speaking about School Improvement Grants

Carl Mitchell, senior at Frederick Douglass High School

Meet Carl Mitchell. Carl is just one of the many students that have benefited from the recent changes at Frederick Douglass High School spurred in part by an ED School Improvement Grant (SIG) which has helped turnaround their school and provide a better learning environment for students. Mitchell, a bright college bound senior who also doubles as the school mascot (Go Mighty Ducks!), attested to the sense of community that is fostered at Frederick Douglass. When asked what motivates him, he responded by saying “It’s not just about getting the degree for me, it’s for all the people that helped me. I owe them and don’t want to let them down.” An aspiring graphic designer, Mitchell will be the first in his family to attend college. His support team, including his principal, teachers, and peers joined him at ED as he proudly represented the Douglass community.

Linda, Nicholas, Scott, and Carl are just four of the millions of students and educators that are able to achieve their dreams with the help of great educators and federal programs from the Department of Education. Little do these individuals know though, that by sharing their story they are following in the footsteps of those who inspired them, and are inspiring us.

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Our next ED Youth Voices Policy Briefing Session will include students reforming education at the local level: teacher evaluations, DREAM act, school safety and more. Watch the session live on June 27th from 10-11:30am at edstream.ed.gov. 

Institutions Commit to Providing Millions of Students with Easy-To-Understand Information About College Costs

We know that students and their families face a difficult task in deciding where to enroll for higher education, and understanding the cost of college—and how to pay for it—can be daunting. Too often, students are left without a clear explanation of what the costs mean or how they compare to other colleges they are considering, and as a result, many students leave college with debt that they didn’t fully understand at the time they entered school.

Shopping Sheet Example

An example of the information on the Shopping Sheet

While many financial aid award letters provide understandable information, some can be confusing, lacking clear distinctions between grants (which don’t have to be paid back) and loans (which do), as well as important information about outcomes like graduation rates and default rates. This confusion can make it difficult for students to decide which college is the right fit for them, best suited to their needs, priced affordably, and consistent with their career and educational goals.

In July, I sent a letter to college presidents nationwide, asking them to adopt a new Financial Aid Shopping Sheet clearly showing prospective students what a college education would cost. For prospective students, this model disclosure letter for financial aid offers helps explain the total cost of a program—including tuition and fees, the costs that are covered by federal loans and grants, the type and amount of financial aid they may qualify for, their estimated student loan debt upon graduation, and information about graduation rates. This information can help students easily compare financial aid packages offered by different institutions, and ultimately make an informed decision on where to invest in their higher education.

Our goal is to help students arrive at school each fall less worried about how they will pay for college, and more focused on how they will complete college. Institutions of higher education share that goal, and many have shown their support by adopting the Shopping Sheet for use as part of their financial aid award packages starting for the 2013-14 school year.

To date, 316 institutions* serving over 1.9 million undergraduate students, or 10 percent of all undergraduates, have agreed to adopt the Shopping Sheet [MS Excel, 1.4MB]. Of those schools who have signed on, about 43 percent are public institutions, 43 percent are for-profit institutions and 14 percent are private schools. Among the institutions that have voluntarily agreed to adopt the Shopping Sheet are several state college and university systems—including the University System of Maryland, the State University of New York System, the University of Massachusetts System, and the University of Texas System—as well as several institutions with large undergraduate populations, including Arizona State University, Miami Dade College, and the University of Phoenix online campus. All of the systems and institutions that committed to financial aid transparency at the June roundtable with Vice President Biden—including North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Syracuse University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Vassar College—have also adopted the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet for the 2013-14 school year.

Additionally, to ensure that service members, veterans, spouses and other family members have the information, support and protections they deserve, in April 2012 the President signed an Executive Order establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members. This Executive Order requires educational institutions receiving funding from federal military and veterans’ educational benefits to provide prospective students with the financial aid Shopping Sheet to help students understand the total cost of their education. Already, more than 2,900 institutions have agreed to implement the Principles of Excellence.

Students should not have to wait until after graduation to learn the size of their monthly student loan payment. Families choosing a college should have clear and comparable information, in a common format, to guide their choice. And no one should forego college because they think they cannot afford it. We will continue to work with the institutions that have already signed up to use the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet for the next school year, and we look forward to more colleges and universities committing to use this common-sense tool to provide students and parents with clear information about costs.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

* Update Nov. 29, 2012: The Department will provide updated figures periodically on its Financial Aid Shopping Sheet website.

Top 5 Benefits of the College Navigator

College Navigator LogoWhether you’re a high school student wanting to look into your college options or a parent trying to get ahead of the game, the college research and application process can be confusing. With 4,000 degree-granting institutions in the United States, how are you supposed to find out which one is the right fit for you?

Luckily, ED has a great resource that makes the process of finding a college easier. The College Navigator helps you find, organize, and keep track of the schools that are best suited for you. Here’s a list of the top 5 ways to use this tool:

1.     Cost Calculator

The Navigator estimates student expenses for each college, including tuition, books, supplies, and room and board. Also provided is the net price of attendance and links to each school’s calculator.

2.     Financial Aid

College Navigator reports every college’s financial aid awards, breaking them into categories such as number of students at the school who receive aid and average amount of aid received.

3.     Graduation Rates 

Data are presented on color-coded graphs that make the numbers easy to understand whether students are staying in school and completing.

4.     Student Loan Default Rates

You can see whether former a college’s students are repaying their student loans. If too many are defaulting, it’s a sign the school isn’t preparing them for success after graduation.

5.     Compare Your Favorites

Add colleges and universities that you like to a My Favorites tab. You can compare two or more schools and export results to a spreadsheet.

The college application process is an important one, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. With College Navigator, you can narrow your search and stay connected to your prospective schools’ admissions offices. Before you know it you’ll be on your way to college that’s right for you.

Alexandra Strott is a student at Middlebury College and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Take Politics Out of Student Loan Process

This op-ed appeared in today’s edition of Politico.

Last month, I had the honor of giving the commencement address at Howard University. I was filled with hope and inspiration looking out at the faces of all those young people, often the first in their family to attend college.

Those students and their families worked hard, sacrificed and saved to go to Howard. And for many of them, getting a degree would not have been possible without the help of Pell Grants and low-interest federal student loans.

These students and parents understand that a post-secondary education is the ticket to economic success in America. But while it’s never been more important to have a degree, a certificate or an industry-recognized credential — it’s also never been more expensive.

Since 1995, college costs across the country have increased almost five times faster than median household income. As a result, students and their families are taking on more and more debt. Borrowing to pay for college used to be the exception, now it’s the rule.

About two-thirds of college graduates borrow to go to school, and on average they’re graduating with more than $26,000 in debt. In an economy still recovering from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, getting a job is hard enough, but paying back those loans is daunting.

To make matters worse, a policy change is coming at the end of this month that will make getting out of debt more expensive for more than 7 million young Americans next year: Without congressional action, the interest rate on Stafford loans will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, starting July 1.

Based on the average loan amount, doubling the Stafford loan interest rate will add more than $1,000 in total costs for borrowers. For students who borrow heavily to go to college, it could cost even more. Only Congress can keep these interest rates from doubling. And yet Congress has so far failed to deliver.

While I appreciate that some congressional Republicans have recently indicated they’re now willing to work with the administration to find a solution, the debate so far has been largely divided along party lines and made no progress.

Americans are tired of political fights in Washington. It’s time to stop talking and start doing. People want Congress to put politics aside and come together to produce real results that make a difference. And you can count college students at the top of that list. I am optimistic that both parties can — and should — find common ground to reach a bipartisan compromise.

President Barack Obama has traveled to colleges and universities across the country, urging Congress do its part to keep college affordable by stopping student loan interest rates from doubling this July. With so many students struggling to both make ends meet and afford the skyrocketing price of a college degree, now is not the right time to heap more costs on them.

All of us share responsibility for making college affordable and keeping the middle-class dream alive. Parents need to be smart consumers, and students need to finish on time or even early.

Colleges and universities need to be efficient and productive in delivering educational value to students. Graduating students ready for success should be as important to professors as research and publishing. Institutions should ensure that keeping costs down does not take a back seat to the expensive amenities outside the classroom. Where it makes sense, they should offer lower-cost options such as online learning.

States must do their part to make higher education a higher priority in their budgets. Last year, 40 states cut higher education spending — the single most significant factor in tuition increases.

The Obama administration is working everyday to do its part. But we need Congress to step up and help. Over the past two years, we’ve worked with Congress to dramatically boost Pell grant funding by passing the Recovery Act. We’ve also eliminated billions of dollars in wasteful taxpayer subsidies to banks, plowing the savings into aid for low-income college students.

We’re helping students better manage their debt after graduation with programs like income-based repayment, loan consolidation and public service loan forgiveness. And we’re proposing to double the number of work-study jobs and make the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent, which would provide $2,500 annually for working families to pay for college. We’re also calling for new incentives for states and institutions to keep college costs from escalating.

We took all of these steps because the president and I believe education is a public good. College should not be reserved only for those who can afford it. Investing in education is the best investment America can make to bolster its competitiveness in a knowledge-based, global economy. If we don’t invest today, we will lose tomorrow.

Now, America can take another simple step forward and keep the interest rate on Stafford loans at 3.4 percent — but only if Congress does its job and comes together around a fair and responsible way to pay for it.

In 2007, a Democratic-controlled Congress and a Republican president came together to lower interest rates on these loans because it was the right thing to do. That Congress did not put politics ahead of students and neither should today’s. Let’s do the right thing for America’s students — and for our nation’s economy.

Arne Duncan is the secretary of education.

Education Department Announces Winners of Net Price Calculator Video Contest

Each year, millions of students face the challenge of choosing a college – and how to afford it is increasingly daunting for families. For many, the high price tag of a college education may discourage them from pursuing a degree, and that’s why the Department has undertaken an effort to help families access better consumer data that can help students determine how to best invest in a high-quality education at an affordable price.

Part of that effort has focused on institutions’ “net price” and spreading awareness of net price calculators, a key tool that can assist parents and students in researching the cost of higher education. Net price calculators go beyond an institution’s “sticker price,” factoring in grants and scholarship aid to give families a better sense of how much they would actually pay to attend a specific school.

Earlier this year, the Department held a contest encouraging college and high school students to come up with creative videos that explain net price calculators and why they are a valuable resource. Today, ED is announcing that three students have each won a $1,500 prize for creating the top-scoring videos in the Department’s College Net Price Calculator Student Video Challenge. The winners are:

    • Michael Kirby from the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. (watch the video)
    • David DeMesquita from Cal State Fullerton in Fullerton, Calif. (watch the video)
    • Brian Schwabauer from Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo.  (watch the video)

The Department plans to use these videos to broaden awareness of net price calculators among students and will continue outreach efforts to several stakeholder groups, organizations, college counselors and student body leaders. In addition, every title IV institution is now required to have a net price calculator on their website, and the Department has proactively linked to each school’s net price calculator from its College Navigator site, which contains a wealth of consumer information. 

The challenge is part of a broader Administration effort to address the rising cost of college and the struggles families face paying for higher education. The Department hopes that by providing key consumer data like net price, families will have a better sense of what they can afford and will be empowered to make smart decisions about where to invest and enroll for college.

Sara Gast is press aide in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Student Loan Complaint System is Open for Business

Cross-posted from the CFPB’s blog.

Since we opened our doors, student loan borrowers have told us about some of the frustrations they sometimes face with their lenders, servicers, and debt collectors. Borrowing for college should be the best investment you’ll make, but for many Americans, paying off those student loans is a real challenge.

For several years, federal student loan borrowers have had the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Ombudsman to help bring their concerns to financial institutions. But for millions of students and their families, federal student loans don’t cover the full cost of college and they need private student loans to make ends meet.

However, private student loans – which don’t always carry the same consumer protections as federal student loans – have been overseen by a patchwork of government agencies. In the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Congress established an Ombudsman for private student loans within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to assist borrowers with private student loan complaints. This means a single federal agency is now responsible for watching out for all students and families who choose to borrow private student loans.

Today, we are open for business and ready to hear from you. To ask a question, file a complaint, or share your story: go to www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint or call our toll-free number at 1-855-411-CFPB.

If you file a complaint, we’ll work with your lender or servicer to get a response. While we certainly can’t make your debt disappear, we can help bring your concern to your financial institution’s attention. If you don’t have a specific complaint or question, but want to tell us what is – or is not – working in the student loan market, we invite you to tell your story.

And while the Consumer Bureau has only been open for a short time, we’ve been hard at work to gather the facts and provide tools to help you make good decisions about student loans. We launched an online tool, the Student Debt Repayment Assistant, to help you navigate the maze of student loan repayment options. We also launched Know Before You Owe: student loans and worked with the Department of Education to develop a draft “financial aid shopping sheet” for schools to improve the student loan information they give to students.

Our team at the Bureau will keep working to give you the tools and the information to make sound financial decisions on student debt – and to figure out your options in case things don’t go according to plan. These days, we all seem to know someone having a tough time with their student loans, so share this new resource by e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook (just use one of the buttons below). With your participation, we can help make the student loan market work better for all of us.

Rohit Chopra is the CFPB’s student loan ombudsman.