Opinions, Editorials

BC Should Commit to a New Financial Aid Transparency Initiative

Boston College prides itself on addressing the full financial need of its students. It has an opportunity to further its commitment to supporting low-income families by joining the College Cost Transparency Initiative. 

Spurred by concerns about the complexity of financial aid, the leaders of 10 higher education associations came together in fall 2022 to form the College Cost Transparency Initiative (CCT), a task force dedicated to improving “the clarity, accuracy, and understanding of student financial aid offers by producing a set of guiding principles and minimal standards to be used when communicating aid offers.” 

The CCT was founded a few months before a 2022 U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that hundreds of colleges and universities do not follow government-recommended best practices in their financial aid offers. As a part of its call to action, the CCT created a comprehensive list of standards that partner institutions are committed to following. 

One such principle is a commitment to transparency, an understanding that financial aid offers should be designed for clarity and comparison. This includes a detailed breakdown of the components—from itemized scholarship amounts to estimated transportation costs—that should be “displayed prominently” on each financial aid offer. 

BC should become a partner institution of the CCT to double-down on its commitment to delivering “clear and effective communication” to students with financial need. BC’s standard financial aid award structure already adheres to many of the CCT’s principles and standards—but it misses an important one. 

As a need-blind institution, BC is “committed to admitting students solely on the basis of their academic and personal accomplishments, and without regard to financial need.” This means that BC is also committed to meeting 100 percent of students’ demonstrated financial need—but it uses its own institutional formula to calculate this need. The CCT suggests that schools use the publicly available federal formula. 

BC adequately summarizes scholarship and loan totals on its financial summary page, but it does not fully explain the weights of each factor included in its stated “cost of attendance.” Additionally, BC provides no information on the exact “institutional methodology” it uses to calculate need-based aid for students. 

As a part of its financial aid mission statement, BC emphasizes its reliance on three key principles: counsel, access, and equity. With “counsel” specifying “clear and effective communication, customer focus, and mutual respect,” BC already emphasizes transparency as a core element of its financial aid process. As such, there is no valid reason BC should avoid publicizing its commitment by signing the CCT.

In the year since its creation, over 350 higher education institutions have partnered with the CCT. By signing the CCT and agreeing to reform their financial aid processes, these institutions demonstrate “their dedication to promoting fairness, accessibility, and clarity in the financial aid process, ultimately contributing to a more equitable higher education landscape.”

Some of BC’s peer Jesuit institutions, such as Marquette University and College of the Holy Cross, are part of the hundreds of schools that have already partnered with the CCT. Others—including Georgetown University, University of Notre Dame, and Fordham University—have yet to join. 

On the surface, the financial aid websites of schools like Marquette, Georgetown, and BC are relatively similar. All three provide comprehensive information of the application process and award distribution. Marquette, however, sets itself apart from other Jesuit schools by signing and adhering to the CCT. 

BC has the 11th highest undergraduate tuition of any colleges in the United States. It also has one of the nation’s largest endowments. The University already commits itself to providing millions in financial aid to its students through these funds. BC can further affirm its leadership in need-based scholarship by signing the CCT.

Correction (Oct. 30, 2023 6:00 p.m.): This editorial was corrected from a previous version to reflect that the CCT was founded by the leaders of 10 higher education associations, not the leaders of 10 universities. This editorial was also corrected to reflect that the CCT was founded a few months before the 2022 U.S. Government Accountability Office report, not after the report was released.

October 29, 2023