Decoding the Cost of College

Making the Case for Transparent Financial Aid Offers

After getting into college, students receive financial aid packages--known as award letters--to help make their decisions about where to attend and what they can afford. But these letters often confuse rather than clarify costs and available aid. Why is this the case?

No federal policy exists that requires standardized terminology, formatting, or even the inclusion of critical information like total cost and loan amounts on award letters. Without uniform guidelines, like the federally mandated nutrition labels and car sales window stickers, families are left to make a major financial decision without an apples-to-apples comparison. The lack of requirements leaves thousands of institutions communicating billions of dollars of federally-funded aid in hundreds of different ways.

In 2018 the New America Education Policy Program partnered with uAspire, a nonprofit leader on college affordability, on a report that analyzes data from thousands of financial aid award letters, presents seven policy recommendations, and calls on federal, state, and institutional parties to create a systems-level change.

Join New America NYC, New America's Education Policy Program, and uAspire for a presentation of the report’s findings followed by a conversation with regional experts about why communicating college cost falls short and what steps should be taken to provide more transparency to students and their families.


Rachel Fishman @higheredrachel
Deputy Director for Higher Education Research, New America

Laura Keane @lmkeane
Chief Policy Officer, uAspire

Flosha “Flow” Tejada
Director of College Completion, Uncommon Collegiate Charter High School

Brendan Williams
Director of Knowledge, uAspire

Kim Clark @kclarkcollege
Assistant Director, Education Writers Association

Zayne Abdessalam @ZAbdessalam
Director of Policy and Research, Office of Financial Empowerment at NYC Department of Consumer Affairs

Christen O'Connor
Associate Director of Financial Aid, Dartmouth College

This report and conversation is presented in partnership with The Kresge Foundation and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

Follow the conversation online using #TransparentAwardLetters and following @NewAmericaNYC, @NewAmericaEd and @uAspire.

Reception begins at 6:00 pm, followed by programming at 6:30 pm.