Higher Ed Finance Deserves More Consumer Transparency

It’s natural for entrepreneurs, marketers and politicians to eagerly hype their education-related initiatives. After all, education’s a great thing, right?

And if Post can market as Grape-Nuts a cereal that has no grapes and no nuts, surely it must be OK for:

  • Companies and colleges to make overly optimistic promises about their educational programs’ impact on careers.
  • Congress to brand a program of forgivable loans for education majors as “Teach Grants.”
  • Entrepreneurs to pitch online education as a scalable solution to getting more disadvantaged students through college, despite evidence that such students are less likely to succeed in online courses.

No, it’s not OK.

Such higher ed puffery can do real harm. Thousands of Americans are struggling with student loans for career education programs that failed to meet their promises, for example, or that were originally marketed as grants.

The Education Writers Association, the nonprofit membership organization for journalists and communicators who cover education, urges members to replace vague and misleading claims with clear, accurate descriptions so that students and parents can avoid get the education they need to improve their lives without crushing debt.

But since higher education is far more important to our democracy than a bland bowl of cereal, it’s everybody’s job to get the story right.

Fair and accurate descriptions are especially important for fresh innovations, such as Income-Share Agreements. Students and policymakers need accurate information about possible advantages, of course, but also terms, costs and risks so they can make wise decisions. That’s why I’m excited to explore some of these details on a panel on new ideas for “Financing Higher Education’s Equity Imperative.”

Education marketing and information also deserves extra care because the target audience is especially vulnerable. High school students – mostly minors – clearly need heightened protection from misleading claims.

So, frankly, do many adults seeking education. One recent survey found that 37 percent of adults considering pursuing higher education were confused by jargon or buzzwords in the financial aid and application process. Those from low-income backgrounds were the most likely to be put off.

As George Orwell wrote in his classic essay, Politics and the English Language, getting words right “is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.” It’s time for straight talk about paying for education beyond high school. That’s a cause that all of us can embrace.

Sponsored Content Provided by The Education Writers Association.

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