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New Website Helps Families Plan for College

Most overestimate cost of college, says Dept. of Education 


After a new report showed that parents and students often greatly overestimate the cost of college tuition, the U.S. Department of Education created a new Web site designed to give students and families the facts they need to better plan and prepare for college.

The National Center for Education Statistics report, "Getting Ready for College," found that while the vast majority (91 percent) of students and parents report plans for higher education, they are generally unable to estimate accurately the cost of college tuition. When students and parents could offer estimates of tuition costs, they tended to overestimate, especially for public institutions. For example, in 1998-99, the average yearly in-state undergraduate tuition at public four-year colleges was approximately $3,200. However, students in grades 11 and 12 who planned on attending public four-year colleges and their parents estimated tuition to be between $5,400 and $5,800.

"Clearly, there is a real need for public information on college costs and financing. If the desire is there, so are the resources—through federal aid or tax credits that can help students realize their education goals, regardless of their family circumstances," said Education Secretary Rod Paige in a Department of Education press release.

"That's why we're pleased to announce Student Aid on the Web—a powerful new Web tool that encompasses the entire federal student aid process. This new Web site does everything from assess a student's career interests to help a student apply for financial aid."

The new Web site—www.studentaid.ed.gov—provides students and parents with free, online tools to help them access information about higher education and learn the facts about its affordability. For example, the site offers:

  • A student profile feature to assess career interests, highlight schools that offer degrees in those fields and offer job search strategies;


  • A calculator to project education costs into the future and to develop a financing plan; Information about federal financial aid programs, tax credits and links to private scholarship sites;

  • Online federal financial aid application; College admission application processes and standardized testing requirements for school admissions;


  • A planning timeline to help students schedule their high school courses to meet academic requirements for the college of their choice;


  • and Student and parent loan repayment options.

      Paige noted that the NCES report found that parents who sought information about financial aid availability were more likely to estimate tuition costs accurately than other parents. Similarly, if students talked with someone about or read about financial aid, they were more likely to provide accurate estimates of tuition costs than other students.

    "This simple but important finding suggests: the earlier that students and their families become informed about the pathway to higher education, the better their chances for success," Paige said.

    The report is based on data from the Parent and Youth Surveys of the 1999 National Household Education Surveys Program. Data taken from the surveys for this report are representative of the nation's 6th-12th grade population. The report examines how much college-bound students in grades 6-12 and their parents know about the cost of attending college, the relationship between their knowledge of college costs and how they go about preparing for college. The report also examines whether they were saving for college and were aware of various tax credits and scholarships available to help offset college costs.

    The free online resource Student Aid on the Web is located at link url=http://www.studentaid.ed.gov. The NCES report, "Getting Ready to Pay for College," is available at url=http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2003030.

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