Q&A: CFPB, ED Issue Final Version of Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued the revised and final version of the financial aid Shopping Sheet as part of their efforts to make information about the cost of college and financial aid packages more transparent and comparable for students and parents. Since its release, NASFAA has received questions regarding the Shopping Sheet and below we’ve listed some commonly asked questions and answers, based on our understanding:

  • Q: Is the Shopping Sheet Required?
  • A: Agreeing to comply with Executive Order 13607, VA Principles of Excellence, is currently voluntary for schools. However, GEN-13-05 indicates that if a school agrees to comply with the VA Principles of Excellence, the school is then required to use the Shopping Sheet for both its undergraduate and graduate students who are prospective students and who are veterans and service members eligible to receive federal military and veterans educational benefits. Agreeing to comply gets the school added to a list of “Principles of Excellence” schools on the VA website. It does not affect participation in VA benefits or approval of programs or students for VA benefits. For implementation beyond the VA Principles of Excellence requirements, a school can voluntarily choose to use the Shopping Sheet for just its undergraduate students or just its graduate students. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) prefers (but does not require) that a school uses the Shopping Sheet for all of its students.
  •  Q: How will “comparable institutions” be defined? 

 A: The metrics on the right side of the Shopping Sheet will be provided by ED. It is NASFAA’s understanding that an institution’s metrics will be compared to other schools that offer the same predominant credential (e.g., 2-year undergraduate degree, 4-year degree). It does not appear that ED will distinguish according to sector.

  • Q: What does “other scholarships you can use” mean? 

A: These are outside scholarships (e.g., from high schools, local government, etc.) that have been awarded to the student. Of course, the school can only list scholarships of which it is aware.

  • Q: Can you further explain the intended format? Are schools limited to a PDF format? 

A: Initially the Shopping Sheet was only in PDF, but has also been made available in HTML format. It is also expected to be incorporated into EDExpress in January 2013. If a school has a unique need, it is encouraged to email shoppingsheet@ed.gov with its questions. ED’s goal is to accommodate innovative award packages and try to make it work for all those who are interested.

  • Q: What is the intended timing? 

A: Ideally this would be ready for the 2013-14 award year, meaning students would be receiving the Shopping Sheet beginning in the spring of 2013. ED is hoping to have the software worked out by then, but schools should not be discouraged by the technical aspect—schools should email shoppingsheet@ed.gov to see if there is a way to work with current software providers to make this work by 2013.

  • Q: Where should FSEOG be placed on the worksheet?

A: FSEOG funds should be placed in the “grants from your school” section. The school can elaborate on the sources of grant funds and scholarships in the customizable box at the bottom of the sheet or in supplemental material.

  • Q: The “loan options” section only lists Federal loans. Where should state or institutional loans be listed?

A: ED has indicated that state and institutional loans would be listed in the customizable box at the bottom of the sheet. See ED’s annotated Shopping Sheet at: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/guid/aid-offer/annotatedshoppingsheet.pdf.

  • Q: Does the Shopping Sheet apply to graduate students?

A: Although the Shopping Sheet was designed for undergraduates, ED has expressed its expectation for “institutions to be as transparent and consistent in presenting information to graduate students as they are for undergraduate students. Institutions that agree to comply with Executive Order 13607 are expected to provide the Shopping Sheet to undergraduate students who are eligible to receive Federal military or veterans education benefits. In addition, they are expected to provide the Shopping Sheet (as appropriately modified) to graduate students who are eligible to receive Federal military or veterans education benefits OR provide the information that is included on the Shopping Sheet in a format of their choosing.”

  • Q: What modifications should be made to the Shopping Sheet to use it for graduate students?

A: For aid programs that are not available to graduate students (Pell Grant and subsidized Direct loans), the institution may either indicate “N/A” on the amount line or remove the program line from the sheet. The institution may not remove the metrics on the right side of the sheet, as that would no longer resemble the Shopping Sheet, but it may substitute rates based on graduate students, if it has that information.

  • Q: If the school does not participate in a particular program (for example, Perkins loans), should it take that program line off of the Shopping Sheet?

A: No, but it may indicate “N/A” on the program line.

  • Q: If a school has indicated to the Veterans Administration (VA) that it will comply with the Principles of Excellence, are they required to give the Shopping Sheet to ALL students, or just veterans, active duty military, and their families?

A: The Principles of Excellence only address use of ED’s standardized form (i.e., the Shopping Sheet) for prospective students who are eligible to receive Federal military and veterans educational benefits.

As a reminder, ED has made it clear that institutions would not be required to substitute this Shopping Sheet for their own financial aid award letters. The Shopping Sheet can be used as the institutional award letter, to supplement the institutional award letter, or, for students not covered by the Principles of Excellence, not at all. Institutions can notify ED of their interest in participating by emailing shoppingsheet@ed.gov.

NASFAA President Justin Draeger urged institutions to carefully review the Shopping Sheet before agreeing to adopt it to ensure it is the most effective format to deliver this critical consumer information to students.

"While we are pleased that institutions are not required to adopt the Shopping Sheet, we remain concerned with the inflexible standardization of the Shopping Sheet, and more broadly, with the multitude of consumer disclosure initiatives that have been introduced in recent months," Draeger said in a statement. "Institutions need flexibility to design a financial aid award letter that best meets the needs of their unique student populations."

Institutions that have signed on to the "Principles of Excellence" for the treatment of veterans that was created by Obama's Executive Order (EO) 13607 will have to adopt the shopping sheet format for their award letters to these students. In addition, the 10 institutions that committed to providing key financial information to incoming students starting next year are expected to adopt this shopping sheet.

CFPB and ED made several modifications from the original, draft Shopping Sheet based on input from financial aid administrators, counselors, students, parents and consumer groups. Several of NASFAA's recommendations were also incorporated into the final version. Major updates include:

  • Providing an area for institutions to add customized information
  • Separating work-study aid from student loan aid
  • Including information about family contribution -- as calculated by the FAFSA or Institutional Methodology (IM), at the school’s discretion
  • Revising the monthly loan payment estimates with more nuanced information about median debt levels and loan costs. In addition the sheet provides a link to ED's website with repayment options and a loan calculator so students can make more customized estimates
  • Removing retention rate information and information that compares costs with other institutions 

The Shopping Sheet also sets standardized terminology to help students and families compare financial aid packages.

Obama administration and ED officials said they worked to make the shopping sheet consumer friendly while also minimizing the administrative burden for institutions. Officials also said that they were working with institutions and software providers to tackle technical issues associated with implementing the shopping sheet. 

While this is the final version, officials from the Obama administration and ED said they would continue to consider feedback from institutions that adapt the Shopping Sheet to increase effectiveness moving forward.

Please note that if your institution has committed to use the Shopping Sheet for all undergraduates you should email shoppingsheet@ed.gov.  Even if you have committed to the Shopping Sheet through your agreement to comply with the VA Principles of Excellence (the Shopping Sheet is now the standardized form referred to in that document), you should still email ED separately at the aforementioned address to confirm.