A young official at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the even younger CEO of a startup aim to make the true cost of colleges clearer. It's not easy.
The watchdog. Rohit Chopra, 31, the first student loan ombudsman at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is still paying off the loans for his own Wharton MBA. Yet he's already made strides in helping families make better college choices.
One of his first actions when he started his job at the new agency was to help create the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, a standardized letter each college is encouraged to mail to accepted students. About 1,800 colleges have agreed to provide long-buried information such as how much debt a student will probably take on, what the payments could be, and graduation rates.
The entrepreneur. In October, Abigail Seldin, 25, launched CollegeAbacus.com. The site taps colleges' online "net price" calculators to get estimates of what a student will be likely to pay after financial aid. You can get results from three schools at a time for free; for $75 you get personalized net prices for 100 top schools.
There's just one problem: A company that runs many of the calculators quickly started blocking College Abacus at the request of some schools. It has sparked a debate over who has the right to use the calculators and how students should see the info.
"I want a chance to put the price in a context," says Peter Stace, vice president for enrollment at Fordham University. Other schools, including Middlebury and Yale, say they'd like to be back on College Abacus again.
Best new wild idea
Learn first, pay later. Which makes more sense: Pay $40,000 upfront for four years at a public university or pay, say, 3% of income for 15 years after graduation?
In July, Oregon passed a law requiring a study of a "pay forward, pay back" plan that would make the income-based option possible. The idea is that students wouldn't risk paying for a diploma before it paid off with a good job. With unemployment still high, that's enticing.
Of course, there are wrinkles. Jeffrey Selingo, former top editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, warns that unless colleges (not just taxpayers) bear some risk for low repayments, they'll keep raising tuition.
But Peter McPherson of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities says so many people are struggling that "we should be exploring creative ideas."