WASHINGTON — The University of Massachusetts and nine other college and university systems agreed in a West Wing meeting Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden to make student financial aid award letters clearer and more transparent, part of a broader White House effort to contain skyrocketing college costs and reign in student debt.
Starting in 2013-14, the colleges will provide all incoming students with clear, easy to digest information sheet on how much one year of college will cost; financial aid options that distinguish between grants, scholarships and loans; net costs after grants and scholarships are taken into account; and the estimated monthly payments for federal student loans upon graduation.
In addition, the colleges have agreed to provide a report card of sorts outlining their graduation and retention rates as well as student loan default rates in a standardized format that makes comparison shopping easier for students and families.
“We’ve signed on and agreed to do our part,” said UMass President Robert Caret in a phone interview. “But as much as we keep costs down, the base of funding is eroding even faster from the state side.”
The five-campus UMass system is expected to release its tuition and fees schedule for the 2012-13 school year by tomorrow, said Caret, who sent UMass Amherst Chancellor Robert Holub to the White House meeting to represent the system.
The roundtable with university leaders also included the presidents and chancellors of Arizona State University, Miami Dade College, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, the State University System of New York, Syracuse University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University System of Maryland, the University of Texas System, and Vassar College.
The meeting is the third in a series of roundtables that the White House is holding with college leaders to discuss college affordability, Caret said. It is the first time UMass has been present.
During the meeting Biden spoke about the importance of making financial aid available and understandable to prospective college students.
“Barack and I talk about it,” said Biden, according to a media pool report. “Neither one of us would have had any shot. The same with our wives.”
In a press briefing following the meeting, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, and Richard Corday, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, urged all of the nation’s 6,000 college and universities to commit to providing students with easy to understand financial data.
“This is frankly not rocket science,” said Duncan, calling the information sheet a “triumph of common sense” that he hopes will be adopted by the larger higher education community.
With two-thirds of bachelor’s degree recipients borrowing to attend college -- racking up an average debt of more than $26,000 -- student loans have eclipsed credit cards as the leading source of household debt outside of mortgages, Corday said. Students and their families need better tools to help them understand the true costs of an education, compare institutions, and pick the best value before enrolling.
“Students need to know before they owe,” Corday said. “Students need to know that the financial world is not full of tricks and traps that will ruin their lives.”