Report: 9 in 10 colleges fudge on letters about true cost to attend

WASHINGTON — A federal report finds a vast majority of colleges and universities mislead prospective students about the true cost of an education, a report Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley calls “alarming.”

Grassley says the report from the Government Accountability Office studied financial aid offer letters from dozens of institutions, letters students use to compare prices and to determine where they might go to college.  Grassley says, “In these letters, 91% of the colleges understated true costs, 65% left out important details about financial aid packages, and almost a third listed loans as grants.”

Grassley says the GAO report highlights the “deceptive practices” being used by so many colleges, demonstrating Congress needs to act. The Iowa Republican is co-sponsoring a bill called Understanding the True Cost of College Act.  “The bill would require colleges to follow well-documented best practices for information contained in all financial aid offer letters,” Grassley says. “It would create a universal financial aid offer letter, so students can easily compare financial aid packages between schools.”

He says the need for an apples-to-apples comparison is critical. Grassley did not know which, if any, Iowa institutions were studied.

The GAO report compared the financial aid offers from 176 colleges and assessed them against ten best practices from the Department of Education and a commission comprised of 22 federal agencies. None of the colleges followed all ten recommendations.