There’s an App for That

There is, ladies and gentleman, a new program to help aspiring college students understand education debt. Debuted with much fanfare, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has created the Financial Aid Comparison Shopper to “help students make smart choices about student loans.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for this to change much about higher education, however.

According to an Associated Press article in Diverse Issues in Higher Education:

The site, by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is in the testing phase, but already includes information from 7,500 colleges and universities.

Users can plug in details such as grant and scholarship offers to compare what they might owe after attending different schools. The site also offers information on graduation and student loan default rates.

Check out the site here.

The site is interesting but it’s a little weak. At least in part the problem is that there’s no reflection of family income or assets, which are essential to determining a financial aid package. One can add financial aid information, but that’s not terribly useful to high school students. Financial aid is determined by family income and assets. Once one knows financial aid information, one has already gone pretty far along the process of applying for college.

This is a common problem in discussions about education technology. Technology experts have done a great job understating a very real problem: Americans have a lot of debt and they don’t understand it very well. Tech entrepreneurs, responding to that, create a sexy program to help Americans address this problem. Government agencies, eager to demonstrate that they’re attempting to address the problem, publicize the new technology innovation.

It is an interesting app, but come on. The real, structural, problem remains unsolved and unaddressed.

More technology to demonstrate debt won’t reduce debt. It’s time to address the actual debt, not worry too much about technology to make it look interesting.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer