College-bound students face financial aid maze

This week college-bound students learned which schools were offering them admission. Most students have until May 1 to make their final decision. One question they’ll have to answer before making that decision is which schools they can afford.

If next fall’s freshmen are anything like the class of 2012, 71 percent will take out at least one loan to finances their college education and those students will owe an average of more than $29,000 apiece at graduation. Those figures come from The Project on Students Debt at the Institute for College Access and Success, which says that student debt increased by an average of 6 percent a year between 2008 and 2012. Last year, Americans’ outstanding student loan debt topped $1.2 trillion and default rates are rising.

Those trends have left some questioning whether a college education is worth the cost. A Pew Research study released earlier this year says the answer to those questions is a resounding yes. College graduates between ages 25 and 32 are earning an average of $17,500 more each year than their peers who hold only a high school diploma. That wage gap has more than doubled since 1965.

On Thursday’s program, the NewsHour looks at what students and their families need to know as they decide how to pay for a college.

Hari Sreenivasan talks to NPR reporter Claudio Sanchez, who is part of a month-long look at the rising cost of college, growing student loan debt and the decisions students and parent make about paying for college. They’re joined by Roberta Johnson, director of financial aid at Iowa State University, who testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about how federal student loan programs can be strengthened.

They offer some additional information about some of the common misunderstandings and mistakes made by students and families.

Here are some additional resources on financial aid:

Department of Education’s Financial Aid Website, an independent financial aid website

Federal college Scorecard

PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.