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SUNY among colleges that will clarify costs

The SUNY system, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Syracuse University are among schools promising to give new students and parents more information on costs and financial aid, officials said Tuesday.

Vice President Biden joined administration officials and college and university presidents to announce plans for a new "Financial Aid Shopping Sheet," a project of the Education Department and Bureau of Consumer Protection, that would spell out for the first time student-aid information in one concise form. The schools' participation would take effect in the 2013-14 school year.

It's "a commitment to transparency," Biden told reporters at the White House during a meeting with college and university presidents.

Students and parents have complained about the confusing array of financial-aid offers, including the lumping together of scholarships and federal student-aid grants, making it difficult to determine total costs. There are no federal requirements to disclose interest rates or total payments on loans.

Under the "shopping sheet," participating schools will provide students with a standard format for financial-aid letters, including the net costs after grants and scholarships of one year of school, estimated monthly payments for federal student loans after graduation, and statistics for graduation, default and retention rates.

Ten schools and university systems representing 5 percent of all enrolled U.S. college students, or 1.4 million, will participate in the financial aid pledge.

"I don't know how it's ultimately going to be branded, but I love this 'Know what you owe before you go,' " said Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York, which has 64 campuses and 465,000 students.

She said SUNY will also feature a standard "comparability" form so students and parents "can shop for the best value."

As part of his election-year campaign, President Obama is pressing U.S. lawmakers to avert the doubling of student-loan interest rates to 6.8 percent from 3.4 percent July 1.

The president, in economic messages to college-age voters, has said that if Congress doesn't extend a freeze on the rates for government loans, as many as 7.4 million students and families will have to pay an additional $1,000 a year.