CampusLogic partnered with EMI Research Solutions to survey students, parents, and financial aid professionals to better understand which particular words and dollar amounts in financial aid award letters consumers find confusing. Consumers—those who need to use financial aid notifications to compare and make decisions about attending a higher education institution—were also asked to characterize the source of their confusion. This input is essential to helping improve the overall process and clarity around financial aid notifications.
Results of this data-driven project have been broken down into a multi-part series. Subsequent series posts highlight significant insights gleaned from survey respondents. The complete data report, Clear Disparity, is available here.
Students and parents who stand to benefit most from clearly presented options about higher education financing choices are the ones who seem to struggle the most with financial aid award letters. Simply stated, people financial aid notifications are most intended for understand them the least.
Breaking it Down
The fact that award letters are confusing isn’t new. What’s new and striking in this unique data set is the clear disparity. There is clear disparity between the terms and numbers students and parents said tripped them up, and what financial aid experts expected them to be confused over. There is also clear disparity in levels of confusion depending on financial situation, age, and race.
Here’s what CampusLogic learned from the survey respondents:
- Students and parents from households earning less than $25,000 were almost twice as likely than those earning $100,000 to $200,000 to find the Cost of Attendance amounts unclear.
- Younger respondents (18-24) were more likely to flag words/phrases as unclear because they did not understand what they meant; older respondents (39-45) were more likely to not understand why they needed to know a word/phrase or to consider it too vague.
- Black, Asian, and Hispanic respondents were all more likely than white respondents to find Net Costs numbers unclear.
- Hispanic and Asian respondents were more likely to find Loan Option amounts unclear.
- Both black and Hispanic respondents were more likely to identify wording in the Grants and Scholarships blocks as unclear.
- Asian respondents were three times as likely as other groups to find the Work Options section unclear.
- Overall, Hispanic (26%) and Asian (29%) respondents were less likely than white and black respondents to indicate that nothing was unclear (35%).
CampusLogic VP of Student Financial Success Amy Glynn knows that students and parents deserve more, and in the full data report, Clear Disparity, she reminds all stakeholders and policymakers of this. The first step is recognizing that what we are doing is not enough. Students and families are confused by the information they are receiving in financial aid award letters, and there are ways to clarify and simplify the information they are receiving.
While it may seem daunting to personalize each and every award letter, it’s something that needs to be done. Only by looking at every consumer on an individual level and establishing clear guidelines that allow for better comparability and comprehension can institutions ensure they are meeting the unique needs of students and families.
The goal is student financial success, and in order to get there, it means including standard language, definitions, and calculations across award letters—while still allowing for personalized content that meets every student’s unique needs.
Continue reading this blog series for more insights gleaned from CampusLogic’s in-depth data report.