CFPB’s college cost comparison tool draws criticism from schools

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s release of the Financial Aid Comparison Shopper last week has drawn criticism from universities for the tool’s misrepresentation of the amount of debt that prospective students will likely acquire.

The CFPB released the cost comparison tool as a beta version, allowing prospective college students to compare the cost of attendance per year for up to three universities. The tool subtracts the average amount of scholarships and grants from the cost of attendance to determine the need for borrowing, according to The Hoya.

“Now, more than ever, students and their families need to know before they owe,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said, The Hoya reports.

The website is just one part of an ongoing project between the Department of Education and the CFPB and provides financial data for more than 7,500 colleges and universities. The FACS also reveals the expected amount of debt a student will incur in terms of the number of $50 textbooks required to pay back the loan over the course of 10 years.

Critics of the FACS, however, say that the tool does not provide an accurate estimate of the amount of debt a student will incur.

“The website grossly overestimates the average yearly debt of students,” Tony Pals, the communications director at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said, according to The Hoya. “The number that you see for annual debt on the website would be the total debt of students after [four] or [five] years of study.”

Scott Fleming, the associate vice president for federal relations at Georgetown University, expressed concern that the tool may affect students’ university choices, as the FACS tool’s launch coincided with the recent release of university acceptance data.

“We think it’s really distorted, and quite frankly that’s frustrating,” Fleming said, The Hoya reports. “[Prospective students] may look at this test site and get a very distorted sense of what it’s going to cost to go somewhere to college. That’s worrisome.”

Though Pals shared similar concerns, he says that the tool is somewhat useful for prospective college students.

“I do want to note that the website can be useful for comparing financial award letters,” Pals said, according to The Hoya. “The problem is in order to get to that part of the site you have to go through pages that are using inaccurate data.”

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