The Wall Street Journal’s recent article titled “Financial Games Colleges Play” exposed the flim-flam approach used by many colleges and universities when composing financial aid award letters to prospective students. The Journal concludes that it’s shameful students are confused at best and misled at worst by these befuddling financial aid award letters. Your institution can stand out by providing easy to understand language and concise numbers when sending your award letters to those you have accepted as enrollees.

There is little long-term advantage to misleading or confusing your students.  Word gets around when a student feels suckered into paying – or owing – far more than expected.  Institutions wonder why they lose so many students when that second or third enrollment period rolls around.  No one really knows how many transfers or dropouts leave their college because of unexpected costs that smack them in the pocketbook.

You can avoid being penalized with withdrawals, transfers and dropouts if you make sure your institution doesn’t play the game of “get them in now, worry about dealing with the shocked student later.” Do not lump grants and loans together as seventy percent of colleges did in the study noted by The Wall Street Journal.  And don’t do what Northern Arizona University did when it sent a letter stating that their aid offer resulted in “Total Unmet Need: $0” implying that loans included in the aid package were somehow free.

You can differentiate your institution in two ways. One is to create a marketing message that says your school is different because you clearly spell out actual costs and whether financial aid is a gift or has to be paid back. The other way is to use the aid letter version created in 2012 by the Education Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Most colleges don’t use this version and it might be concluded that the reason is that it does not provide room for their usual obfuscation tactics.

Our organization, CollegeLeadExchange.com, soon to introduce what we’re calling the “eBay of prospective enrollee leads,” will blacklist any college or university whose financial aid letters to enrollees sourced from us are misleading or deceitful. Should we be made aware of such practices by a school we will prohibit that school from using our platform. Ever.