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Article of Interest - College Finances

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Families Overestimate College Costs, New Study Finds
Press Release, U.S. Department of Education, October 1, 2003
Contact: Stephanie Babyak or Jane Glickman at (202) 401-1576
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Citing a new report that shows parents and students generally overestimate college tuition costs by thousands of dollars, U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige today announced a new Web site to give students and families the facts they need to 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," Secretary Paige said.

"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 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.

"Thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, students will have the academic preparation to explore a world of opportunities in education and career choices. Student Aid on the Web offers the roadmap to help them determine where they want to go and how to get there," Paige said.

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 Department of Education has a number of programs designed to educate students and parents, especially low-income families, about the availability of federal financial aid, including through its Federal Student Aid Center (1-800-433-3243), booklets and brochures, national career and college fairs, partnering with high school counselors, and conducting videoconferences with financial aid professionals. Other programs such as the TRIO and GEAR UP programs are designed to help high-risk, low-income, minority and first-generation students prepare for college. In FY 2003, the GEAR UP and TRIO programs received more than $1 billion to serve more than two million students.

President Bush's 2004 budget request expands overall student aid available for postsecondary education to a record $62 billion, an increase of $3.1 billion, or 5 percent over the president's 2003 request. Working families will also see savings of $22.7 billion over five years in tax relief for expenses related to higher education.

The free online resource Student Aid on the Web is located at  The NCES report, "Getting Ready to Pay for College," is available at


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