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College Cost Meter FAQ's

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Features, Function, Cost

  • Will Ascendium use the student's information for marketing or other purposes?

    No. We only use the data to send out the College Cost Meter correspondence.
  • Isn't it risky to send an email with student loan data embedded in it? Doesn't it go against a compliance ruling?


    Protecting our customer’s sensitive confidential information and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is a top priority at Ascendium. College Cost Meter is a thoroughly compliant and engaging student loan debt letter.

    Though Ascendium focused on the best method to actually reaching students, effectiveness was not its only consideration. As a longstanding FFELP guarantor, Ascendium complies with a variety of security and privacy and other compliance requirements and is subject to regular Department of Education audits.  Ascendium fully considered applicable legal requirements—including the Higher Education Act and privacy and security laws—when developing College Cost Meter, just as it does with all its offerings.

    There is nothing in the HEA, NIST, or elsewhere that precludes the inclusion of the debt-letter information directly in emails or that requires the use of something as cumbersome as hiding such information behind an embedded link and log-in page (that students may well not take the time to pass through). 

    Furthermore, the Department of the Treasury recently released a report with recommendations for higher education schools to offer financial literacy and resources to help students with decision making surrounding college costs and debt. They specifically provide best practices for issuing student debt letters. There's no recommendation or requirement to put the student's information behind a log in. And in fact it seems counter to their recommendation to "make it easy to find additional information and support."

  • What features should I be looking for or requiring in a student debt letter product?

    There are a number of considerations in planning for and implementing a student debt letter. Our handy checklist gives you a solid head start in understanding the numerous components that go into getting started using a debt letter, starting with identifying whether it's better to build or to buy.
  • How can the school tell if the student opened the email that was sent to them?

    College Cost Meter provides the ability for your school to view open rates on your students' emails via the Dashboard.
  • What customization is available?

    We have an expansive list of financial aid categories to include and ability to easily update content to meet your needs. For example, some items you can simply include or not, like private loans, cost of attendance, and scholarships. Other items to customize include adding your logo, financial literacy URL, school contact information, school colors, and school URL.
  • What does College Cost Meter cost?

    A $2,500 annual subscription fee covers use of the tool, unlimited email sends, and detailed reporting via our 24/7 dashboard. If you choose to send paper letters, there's a $0.75 fee for each paper letter sent.
  • Is the $0.75 fee only for each paper letter sent?

    Yes, it's only for each paper letter sent. There is no additional charge for sending emails because it is part of the annual subscription fee.

  • What kind of email tracking does College Cost Meter do?

    We track who the email was sent to, when it was sent, if a bounce back was received, and who opened the email. 

  • Can a school upload their own NSLDS file(s) as opposed to giving Ascendium access to our SAIG mailbox?

    Yes. A school can upload the NSLDS files themselves if they would like to.

  • Will Ascendium populate the Federal loans from only our school or all Federal loans?

    If the school chooses to use the NSLDS School Portfolio Report then only information from your school will populate. However, you are able to provide the aggregate totals for all schools in the College Cost Meter file if you choose to.

    If your school chooses to use the FAT file then we will populate Federal loans for all schools. 

  • Will College Cost Meter report on and include consolidated loans?

    Yes. We report consolidation loans in the detailed listing from NSLDS.

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Populating College Cost Meter

  • Can we see a copy of the file layout so we can understand the information that's required?

    Your Ascendium Representative can provide the School College Cost Meter Detail File Layout and the corresponding Quick Guide for your state. The file layout is also on the portal in the support tab.
  • Regarding the College Cost Meter School files, do the fields have to be populated if there is no data?

    No. The fields can be left blank but a blank 'field' must be included in the spreadsheet.
  • Do schools need to delete header prior to upload?

    The header row is required. The detail header row (gives the titles of the columns) should be deleted.

    CCM Header Row and File Image


  • How do I test? How do I create a test file?

    We typically ask for 5-10 students' data, to be submitted with the schools email address on the CCM file. We have a new "Test your file" section on the portal that is very easy to use and provides details on what is or is not correct on the file.  Once the file is able to be loaded, we will request the appropriate NSLDS file and then submit the test students to you for your review.

  • Where does the data that I need to report come from?

    The data comes from your Financial Aid Management System (FAMS).

  • When populating the School College Cost Meter file, do we include all currently enrolled students?

    Please refer to your state's mandated legislation. For states without legislation, it's up to the individual school. 

    Most states with debt letter legislation require the correspondence to be sent to all students that were enrolled for the academic year in which the school is reporting on. Depending on when the school reports, students may have graduated or withdrawn and they would also need to be sent in the school's College Cost Meter file.

  • How does College Cost Meter report on loans taken prior to attending our institution?

    We’ll use the NSLDS portfolio report to report any loans that were taken out at your school. But, depending on your state’s requirement, you may need to report on all loans the student borrowed, including while at other institutions. Information on loans taken out prior to students attending your institution is located on the ISIR report and can be included in your College Cost Meter file if you choose to include it. We (or the school) can request the Financial Aid History file (FAT file) which includes all Federal loans the student took out. The FAT file is the most inclusive and is recommended to be used if your state requires all Federal loans. 

  • How does College Cost Meter obtain private loan information?

    The school will report on private loan information using data from your School College Cost Meter file. However, your state’s legislation may or may not require you to report on private loan data. If you’re not required to report on it you can decide if you want to include it in your file or not. 

    If a student has borrowed a private loan elsewhere & you have no knowledge of it, it’s ok—that’s why the legislation mandates you include certain disclaimers.


    Private Loan Data Required?


























    Yes, if the private lender or loan servicer has provided the information to the school.


  • What data are you pulling from NSLDS? Why can't you get everything from NSLDS?

    Depending on the file type used from NSLDS it will either be loans from your school (School Portfolio Report) or aggregate totals and individual loans from all schools (FAT file). NSLDS only has Federal loan information (excluding the Health Profession Loans), so all other loan information that is required needs to be provided by the school.

  • Are schools supposed to populate their School College Cost Meter file with current year borrowers and borrowing or current year students and previous year borrowing or both?

    Schools need to report on current year students’ prior year borrowing and only current year borrowing if funds have been disbursed.

  • What student-level information (e.g., SSN, dependency status, etc.) needs to be provided in the School College Cost Meter file?

    Generally, we need student SSN, name, email address, dependency status, and anticipated graduation date. However, each state’s legislation may have additional requirements. Those data file requirements are noted in the Quick Guide for your state. To located your Quick Guide, log in to the Ascendium Education portal (where you access Attigo tools). The guide and other resources are located in Support > Student Success Support > College Cost Meter > Reference.

  • Do we need to include both graduate and undergraduate students?


  • Where do we get Private Loan information and interest?

    Private loan data comes from your Financial Aid Management System (FAMS).


Aggregate Loan Data & Limits

  • Who calculates the total aggregate principle amount plus accrued interest and total monthly payment? And for what term?

    Ascendium will calculate it based on the information from the FAT file or from the information you provide to us for a 10-year repayment plan.

  • Is all of the aggregate loan limit information presented to all students—or is it just the relevant information based on the information we provide (dependent/independent; graduate/under graduate)?

    The aggregate loan information can be configured to be displayed or to not display at all. Currently, all of the information will be presented if the aggregate loans section is populated. 

  • Do you present the limits for dependent, independent, and graduate students to all students or only the relevant aggregate information based on the student type?

    The aggregate loan information can be configured to be displayed or to not display. Currently, all of the information is being presented if the aggregate loans section is populated. 


Student Notification, Experience, & Outcomes

  • As a best practice do you suggest sending the notice to all students at the start of the year regardless of borrowing plans or to add students as they borrow throughout the year?

    We recommend that if a student has received any federal student loans, the email be sent prior to the start of the academic year. Sending emails multiple times a year though is recommended to accommodate any borrowers that may enroll after the start of the year.

    Please note there are states that require all students (not just borrowers) receive an email. Visit our Definitive Guide to Debt Letters or Resources page to locate your state and the Legislative Recap.

  • When and how frequently should we send College Cost Meter emails?

    You can send it as many times as you like! If you're in a state with student debt letter legislation, it's best to review your state requirements to verify that you are sending them when required. Visit our Definitive Guide to Debt Letters or Resources page to locate your state and the Legislative Recap. 

    Other than that, the only requirement is that you need to ensure the file you previously loaded to the system has been sent already. There's no additional cost to email students as often as you deem appropriate. Many schools send out emails monthly, but other schools choose to wait until after the start of the spring term. 

  • If we send in Spring after fully disbursed that would be just once an Academic Year Correct?


  • If the email is delivered to a student but the student doesn't open it, have we met our obligation? In other words, does it matter whether or not students open the email?

    State requirements are to deliver a student debt letter or email. There is no guarantee a student opens a paper letter, and there is no requirement to track if the email was opened in the current state requirements.

  • Is there any other follow up needed if a paper letter that was sent is returned via U.S. Postal Mail?

    No. You need to document that you sent it but no additional follow up is needed.

  • What is the student experience?

    In order to improve the student experience of receiving the student debt letter communication, we recommend that schools first inform students that it's coming and why it's important.

    We've created customizable promotional communications (an email, text, poster, and TV ad) you can personalize and provide to students to help raise awareness. To find them, log in to the Ascendium Education portal (where you access Attigo tools). The guide and resources are located in Support > Student Success Support > College Cost Meter > Reference.

  • What benefits or positive outcomes have been generated from use of a debt letter?

    Student debt letters not only help schools retain the students they've worked so hard to enroll, they help empower students to achieve better outcomes including strategic degree choices, maximizing credits, and reducing borrowing. 

    • A Federal Reserve study shows that a combination of debt letters and counseling can change student behavior related to borrowing and academic decisions. For example, high debt Montana State University students were sent letters informing them about their debt and encouraging them to seek counseling. In the next semester, on average, they borrowed one-third less, were 2% more likely to switch to a STEM major (associated with higher paying jobs), and had slight increases in the amount of credits taken and grades earned.
    • According to Money, in 2012 Indiana University was one of the first to use annual communications to remind students how much they've borrowed to pay for school, and to estimate future monthly payments. Four years later, students were borrowing 18% less in student loans.
  • What are best practices in terms of supporting students who receive a student loan debt letter?

    The U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission produced Best Practices for Financial Literacy and Education.  A few of the examples put forth in relation to supporting students are noted below:

    • Make it easy to find additional information and support. The letter should contain a link to resources where students can find additional information. 
    • Time sending it related to an event, such as before students register for courses and before the deadline to change their financial aid and borrowing levels fr the subsequent semester.
    • Pair student debt letters with other financial literacy strategies to get the best results.

    Additionally, we recommend first informing students that a debt letter is coming and why it's important. We've created customizable promotional communications (an email, text, poster, and TV ad) you can personalize and provide to students to help raise awareness that their College Cost Meter debt letter is coming soon, and why they need to pay attention to it.  To find them, log in to the Ascendium Education portal (where you access Attigo tools). The guide and resources are located in Support > Student Success Support > College Cost Meter > Reference.


Onboarding Experience

  • How much work do I need to do to initiate correspondence through College Cost Meter?

    There is no installation required. However, you may want to customize your letter based on:

    • Whether your state has student debt letter legislation requirements
    • Including your school branding, contact information, and financial literacy links

    You'll also need to prepare a College Cost Meter file. We've created Quick Guides to help you quickly understand what's required in your file. To locate your Quick Guide, log in to the Ascendium Education portal (where you access Attigo tools). It is located in Support > Student Success Support > College Cost Meter > Reference.


  • How does one solution compare to another in terms of onboarding and customer service?

    Our high-touch support not only makes set up a breeze, but remains in place throughout our relationship with one another. We have dedicated staff that will work with you to test your process and ensure that we're helping you meet the state requirements.


Legislation & Compliance

  • How do we manage meeting the state's requirement given various enrollment times through the academic year?

    Once you create your School College Cost Meter file we'll use it to send student debt letters to your students. As new students enroll throughout the current academic year, you can reuse your file by designating that only the new, additional, students are sent the debt letter. We recommend you do this multiple times a year to account for all students being sent the letter, regardless of when they enrolled in the current academic year.
  • What are the student debt letter requirements and deadline in which I need to comply? Can you provide a copy of it?

    Some states have student debt letter legislation and others don't. Visit our Definitive Guide to Debt Letters or Resources page to locate your state and the Legislative Recap. 

  • What compliance issues regarding student data do I need to consider?

    College Cost Meter is FISMA compliant using NIST protocols and is ADA compliant. Also, student data is protected in accordance with FERPA.

  • Is College Cost Meter FISMA compliant using NIST protocols?


  • Is student data protected in accordance with FERPA?


  • Is College Cost Meter ADA compliant?


  • Do you have reports and tracking that can be used for auditing purposes?

    Yes. College Cost Meter produces reports you can use to show auditors that indicate who the correspondence was sent to, the date, and whether it was an email or a letter.

    You can access all of the reports within the College Cost Meter dashboard. Log in to the Ascendium Education portal (where you access Attigo tools). Note there is also an option to have an HTML or PDF copy of all of the emails sent to the school so you can retain the copies locally.

Still have questions or ready to get started?