College Affordability and Completion: Frequently Asked Questions

College Affordability and Completion: Frequently Asked Questions

College Affordability

How can I find help making college more affordable?

  • Make sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, as early as possible. There's no cost for filling out the application and it is required to receive federal student aid. In addition, many institutions of higher education and states base their financial aid awards on information from the FAFSA, so filling it out sooner can help you avoid missing out on other potential sources of support.

  • Consider your options. Some institutions with a high list price actually may be affordable if they award significant institutional grants. Nearby colleges or universities might not necessarily be the best suited to help you graduate.

  • To assist you in your college search and selection process, the U.S. Department of Education has released a College Scorecard that presents clear information on important metrics such as graduation rates, the average price actually charged to students, and the average debt that students take on to attend a particular school.

Pell Grants

Why is the federal government making more entities eligible for the Pell Grant program?

  • The unabated escalation of college costs is projected to reduce the purchasing power of Pell Grants.

  • Providing opportunities for new, lower-cost providers to be eligible for the Pell Grant program could allow students to earn high-quality, affordable degrees and potentially reduce spending on courses and programs that do not lead to credentials.

Student Loan Interest Rates

Interest rates are scheduled to double on July 1. What is the federal government doing to prevent that from happening?

  • Increasing interest rates at a time when the economy is still recovering is not a good idea.

  • To hold down student borrowing costs and to better reflect federal program costs, the 2014 budget aims to set student and parent loan interest rates for new student loans at the beginning of each academic year based on a prevailing market interest rate. As a result, the borrower interest rates on loans made during an academic year would remain fixed for the life of the loans.

  • To further lessen the burden of student debt, the U.S. Department of Education also would expand repayment options to ensure that loan repayments for all borrowers need not exceed 10 percent of a borrower's discretionary income and that any remaining balances would be forgiven after 20 years of repayment.

Race to the Top: College Affordability and Completion

  1. What schools can be a part of Race to the Top: College Affordability and Completion?

    • The U.S. Department of Education expects that public institutions of higher education in a state would participate. Private institutions could participate on a voluntary basis.

  2. What kind of policy changes do you expect states to undertake?

    • The administration's Race to the Top program for the K-12 sector showed that a small investment of federal funds can produce a large return in terms of state-level education reforms and innovation.

    • Race to the Top has shown great success in bringing together different communities and constituencies to develop thoughtful plans and collaborative approaches for tackling major challenges in K-12 education.

    • Those same lessons about providing incentives to spur reform and encouraging long-term planning to address pressing education reform issues could be very effective in the nation's postsecondary education system.

    • Colleges and K-12 schools are different. Race to the Top: College Affordability and Completion would build on lessons from Race to the Top for the K-12 sector, but the program would be adapted to meet the unique aspects of higher education, both in terms of structure and the issues that need to be addressed.

First in the World

What are some examples of the types of reforms that will be included as part of the new "First in the World" initiative?

  • Course redesign – This program will encourage the use of technology in targeted ways to reduce costs and improve learning simultaneously. Carnegie Mellon University, for example, developed a cognitive tutor that collects data on how students learn and uses it to predict the best ways to present materials to students.

  • Competency-based learning – As a part of this initiative, colleges and universities will award academic credit based on students' demonstrated understanding of the material instead of seat time.

  • Other exciting new methods of delivering learning online – There's still a lot to learn about massive open online courses, or MOOCs, but experimentation in this space is worth pursuing.

Campus–Based Aid Changes

Why is the U.S. Department of Education proposing changes to federal Campus-Based Aid programs?

  • Over the last 20 years, the costs of higher education have increased at more than twice the rate of inflation.

  • While the historic investments made by this administration in federal student aid have helped to mitigate some of the impact of price increases for students, relying on the federal government to backfill cuts from states and institutions of higher education is not a long-term or sustainable solution.

  • That is why colleges must do their part to keep costs down.

  • The U.S. Department of Education is committed to leveraging federal Campus-Based Aid programs to channel scarce aid dollars to students who are attending institutions that are doing their part to provide students with an affordable and high-quality education.


  1. How would the proposal to incorporate measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system affect cost?

    • The administration would call on Congress to amend the Higher Education Act to prioritize value and affordability among items accreditors need to take into account when reviewing institutions of higher education.

  2. How would college costs be affected by the proposal to establish an alternative to the existing accreditation system, which would provide pathways for higher education providers to participate in federal student aid programs based on rigorous performance standards?

    • An alternative path to student financial aid creates opportunities for students to enroll at innovative education providers that may have a different and lower cost structure than existing institutions.

College Scorecard

  1. Why a College Scorecard?

    • President Obama made a commitment to provide students and families with the critical information that they need to make sound decisions about where they should attend college.

    • The College Scorecard provides important information about cost and value that can help students choose a college that is well suited to their needs, priced affordably, and consistent with their career and education goals.

  2. How were the indicators for the College Scorecard selected?

    • The administration solicited feedback over the past year from a wide range of stakeholders to determine the indicators that are important in helping students and families to make sound investments when selecting a college.

    • This feedback included input from a technical review panel that helped determine institutional comparison groups (i.e., similar types of institutions).

    • After much review and consumer focus group testing, the U.S. Department of Education identified a few indicators that students, parents, and college counselors found valuable in making a smart decision about where to apply and attend college.

    • The Department will continue to receive feedback and answer questions about this tool via email at