NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Law Aims to Give More Accurate Tally of College Costs

October 27, 2011

A new federal law kicks in October 29 that requires all college websites to have an online tool called a net price calculator, which is intended to help give students and families a more accurate estimate of real costs.  Many universities have already launched them.  University officials believe that this will help families with transparency in understanding the costs of attending college, says USA Today.

The net price calculator allows families to punch in their financial information to see the impact of their personal situation on costs.  Some of the options parents can input include residence plans, how many other students the family has in college, and any scholarships or grants they've acquired.

  • The 2010 College Board survey reported tuition and fees at private, not-for-profit four-year colleges averaged $27,293, a number that does not include room and meals.
  • The survey showed that full-time students at those schools receive an average of more than $6,000 in grants that don't have to be repaid.

There are concerns among those monitoring the calculators.  The non-profit Institute for College Access and Success, for example, identified problems, including calculators buried "in obscure parts of college websites" or requiring extensive information.  Some admissions administrators say that the calculator can help but that it doesn't show precise costs, and that it is only an estimator.

Source: Brandon James Smith, "Law Aims to Give More Accurate Tally of College Costs," USA Today, October 21, 2011.

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