Calculating Student Loans is Plain as Mud on Department of Education Site

Citizen Wealth Education Financial Justice

New Orleans    There was an interesting article in the paper today touting the calculator on the United States Department of Education (DOE) website.  They claimed that it would be helpful in figuring out the real costs of education at various institutions.  Sometimes they said, some universities might seem to expense to lower income students evaluating colleges, because it had been too difficult to balance the “sticker” price of a school with the greater levels of financial aid offered by some schools.

Great, I thought!  Let’s take a look at how easy this might be to navigate for lower income parents, assuming computers and internet connections were readily available (not!).  So, here it is:

Budget Calculator

Our budget calculator will help you determine your expenses and estimate your total available income. You will need to consider all of your resources and the total cost of your education. The budget calculator lists most of the important expenses and resources: tuition, books, and scholarships, for example.

To complete the worksheet: Click on each category link below the Expense and Resource headings to open a box for entering data. Enter numbers in the fields that pertain to you and close the pop-up box by clicking on “Done”. When you’ve finished entering values, click on the calculate button at the bottom to get the total estimated expenses, total estimated resources and income, and the balance of your budget. You may change the value in any field at any time. Just click on the category link in the field, enter the changes, then click calculate. If you want to start over, click the reset button.

To use this calculator, you must have a browser that is JavaScript compatible.


  Your balance (income – expense) is: $

How easy does that look to you?  If you hit one of the lines, would you have a plain English explanation of what should go into a category, like say, “in-school interest?”  What the heck might that really be?  Where is the guide to how to use this super tool?  I couldn’t find it, and as a dear friend and comrade used to say, “I’m at least as smart as the average bear.”

In Citizen Wealth, I argued that we needed to be serious about dealing with the obstacles in gaining access to entitlements, services, and, even opportunities, like higher education for lower income families by building resource centers, like the former ACORN Service Centers, that could provide “translators” and “interpreters” to help families navigate the gobbledygook and finally gain access.

Let’s not kid ourselves in these days of spending cutbacks in education that there are high school guidance counselors in every school in the country, who are going to be skilled and able to do this job for all the families that are trying to make decisions for themselves and their children about whether or not they qualify or should strap on tens of thousands of dollars worth of debts that could weigh down their future for years.

What does it take for our society and our government to finally stop talking about inequity and start actually lending a hand to stop it?