UConn Joins Initiative to Help Ensure Transparency in College Costs

'Our approach is specifically designed to empower students and families with time to ask questions, to call us, to research, and to get answers to their inquiries'

An aerial view of students wearing cap and gown posing for Commencement photos at the gateway sign

(Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

UConn has joined a coalition of colleges and universities nationwide in an initiative to ensure transparency in financial aid offers, helping students and families make informed decisions when they consider enrolling and as they continue their college careers.

UConn signed on this fall to the College Costs Transparency Initiative, joining more than 360 institutions that collectively represent more than 3.8 million college students nationwide.

Together, they have pledged to follow a set of principles and standards to help students best understand specific elements of the financial aid they are offered at the schools they aspire to attend, or where they are already enrolled. The standardized approach will also make it easier for applicants to compare the offers they receive from multiple schools.

UConn’s Office of Student Financial Aid Services already uses the same principles espoused in the College Costs Transparency Initiative, and is working on some behind-the-scenes technology changes so it can mirror some details of the recommended approaches.

“We prepare and present our financial aid offers in a way that’s as transparent as possible so students and their families will have as much information as possible, and as early as possible,” says Suzanne Peters, UConn’s director of student financial aid services.

Students who apply for undergraduate admission at UConn receive their financial aid offers at the same time they receive their acceptance notifications.

“We know how important it is to them to be able to make their decisions based on a full picture of all of the facts, including all of the details of their financial aid offer,” Peters says.

“Our approach is specifically designed to empower students and families with time to ask questions, to call us, to research, and to get answers to their inquiries before the deadline to accept the offer of admission,” she adds.

For those seeking spots at UConn Storrs, the admissions notification and financial aid offer are released around March 1 of each year, with a May 1 acceptance deadline.

For those applying for the campuses in Hartford, Stamford, Waterbury, and Avery Point, the deadline is May 1, with acceptances made on a rolling basis. Deadlines for transfer students can vary based on the program and location in which they seek admission.

Financial aid offers at UConn are comprised of aid that students do not have to pay back, such as merit-based and need-based grants and scholarships; and the amounts that can supplement that aid through federal work-study and federal student loan options.

The offers are provided to current students as well as incoming students, since changes in current students’ financial circumstances can affect their eligibility for some forms of aid between one academic year and the next.

UConn breaks down information about the cost of attendance in a very granular way, showing how much is attributed to tuition and fees, how much is covered by the various forms of aid, and how much the expected family contribution would be as determined by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

UConn also sends out a separate email to current and aspiring students to explain scholarship terms and conditions, including whether they are for a single year or can be renewed – and, if so, under what criteria.

As part of its updates under the College Costs Transparency Initiative, UConn is making behind-the-scenes technical changes that will let it include those details at the front end with the financial aid offer itself, in addition to continuing the separate email.

As members of the College Costs Transparency Initiative, UConn and other schools pledge to provide financial aid offers to undergraduate students that meet the following criteria:

• Are transparent, ensure that costs are understandable for students and families, and include the most accurate estimate possible of a student’s costs.

• Describe and explain all types of aid offered using standardized, plain language.

• Prominently display critical components, such as an estimate of the student’s total cost of attendance, broken down by costs to be paid to the institution and costs paid to others; types and sources of financial aid being offered, separated into grants and scholarships, student loans, and student employment or work; an estimated net price; and more.

• Follow U.S. Department of Education guidance with regard to referencing Parent PLUS Loans.

• Provide information about employment requirements and information on job placement, if student employment is offered.

• Explain the terms and conditions and information on how much student loan debt may cost over time, if federal student loans are included.

“Students and families need upfront, accurate, and clear information when making decisions about college,” says Peter McPherson, chair of the CCT task force and president emeritus of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU).

“Some standard terminology and clear requirements on what is to be included in financial aid offers is important,” he says. “Colleges and universities are committing to give students and families the information they need.”