In the coming weeks, high school students in Iowa and across the country will don their cap and gown to receive their high-school diplomas. Many of them will look forward to attending college in the fall. It’s an exciting time in the lives of so many young adults, but for a lot of families, it also comes with the stress of deciding what type of higher education makes sense financially.
As a mother, I know how important it is for our kids to have the best opportunities to learn, grow, and succeed, and that includes in higher education. But with tuition costs and fees at colleges continuing to skyrocket, Iowa students and their families are taking on more and more student loan debt.
That’s why I joined my fellow Iowa Senator, Chuck Grassley, and Democratic Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota in putting forward three bipartisan bills that would help provide students and their families with better information about the costs of college, from the initial college search, through the application process, to ultimately accepting financial aid.
Our first bill, the Net Price Calculator Improvement Act, would improve the effectiveness of and access to tools that provide students with early, individualized estimates of higher education costs and financial aid before they decide where to apply. The bill would also provide more transparency from schools by requiring them to put these tools on public webpages where students and families are likely to look for cost and admissions information.
Another piece of legislation, the Understanding the True Cost of College Act, would create a universal financial aid award letter so that students could easily compare financial aid packages between schools. It would clarify the specific financial aid families could receive from a particular school and create standard terms for the aid offered so that students can easily and accurately compare offers from different higher education institutions.
And our third bill, the Know Before You Owe Federal Student Loan Act, would make counseling an annual requirement before new student loans are disbursed, rather than just for first-time borrowers. It would also let folks decide exactly how much to borrow rather than having the maximum possible amount be the default.
While there is plenty of work to do to tackle the costs associated with college tuition and the challenges surrounding student loan debt, these bipartisan efforts are a good place to start. They are commonsense solutions that will give our next generation of leaders the tools they need to make the decisions that are best for them and their moms and dads. Given the challenges of this past year, we need to do all we can to ease the burden on hardworking families—and I hope my colleagues will support us in these efforts.
Joni Ernst, a native of Red Oak and a combat veteran, represents Iowa in the United States Senate.