Senators Reintroduce Bill to Standardize Student-Aid Award Letter

June 17, 2013

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Friday reintroduced legislation designed to pave the way for a standardized letter on student financial-aid awards to be used by all American colleges.

The Understanding the True Cost of College Act, S 1156, would require institutions to use a standardized letter that would specify financial factors like the cost of attendance, grant aid, eligible amounts of federal student loans, expected monthly loan-repayment amounts, and disclosures related to loans and other aid.

Such letters would be comparable among institutions; currently, individual colleges often use their own award letters, in which the type of information and how it is presented may vary.

"This bill will remove some of the mystery and guesswork for students and families as they navigate the higher-education marketplace and empower them to make fully informed decisions about where to attend," said a co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat of Iowa, in a written statement.

The Obama administration released its version of such a letter, the "Financial Aid Shopping Sheet," in May 2012. The secretary of education, Arne Duncan, urged at that time that all colleges adopt the shopping sheet, but without legislation requiring it, adoption remained voluntary. A previous version of the current bill died in committee last year.

In addition to Senator Harkin and the bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat of Minnesota, the co-sponsors include two Republican senators: Marco Rubio of Florida, also a co-sponsor of the 2012 version of the bill, and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa.