The March 2008 issue of University Business has an article about the 2007 Survey of Parents of College Bound Freshman which was released by Sallie Mae. What is interesting is that 35% of parents thought the college financial aid office was their best source of information on paying for college.
College financial aid offices can be a wonderful source of information on how that college handles a particular financial aid issue. For instance, when a student receives an outside scholarship does the college reduce grant aid or self help aid. However, as well meaning as many financial aid officers are, their job is to allocate limited financial resources to the students of their college. It is not to make sure that any particular student pays as little as possible.
Parents and students need to educate themselves on how college financial aid works as part of the process of choosing a college. This is not an issue to be left to the end of the process after you receive your financial aid award. And it is not an issue that they should rely on the colleges to get the critical information they need. One quick example will show the danger of relying on the colleges for your information. In this country there are around 100 colleges that state that they will meet 100% of the stated need on the FAFSA. Most of the web sites of those colleges talk about that because they know that is a strong selling point for their college. However, almost none of the other 2,900 four year colleges list their discount rate because it is not something they wish to discuss. They might tell a parent what their typical discount rate is if asked but in my experience they will try to avoid answering the question.
Most colleges do try to be fair in their allocation of their limited resources but families should not rely on that in their effort to understand college financial aid. There are a number of resources on the web that discuss this including my web page on what families should know about financial aid. For a great presentation on the issues families should know check out Get College Funding’s video.