Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY


Do cost calculators add up to student tuition?

Starting in approximately one month, all Title IV institutions that enroll full-time, first time or certificate seeking undergraduate students will be mandated to include a net price calculator as a resource for prospective students to determine how much they will have to pay for their education after federal or institutional grants. Put into effect into 2008 as part of the Higher Education Act reauthorization, the cost calculators implemented will give students an idea of the full price of their college education.

In 2010, 42 percent of new college students paid less than the sticker price, meaning they received some form of financial aid from the insitution. Since more than half of the students were not aware of their exact tuition until they had already applied and filled out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms, the calculators are thought to be beneficial to an applicant’s decision-making process. But skeptics have forced admissions officers to be skeptical in the use of these calculators, as the high price tags at many colleges and universities may turn away prospective students. Tuition is also such a subjective matter in that everyone qualifies for different levels of need and merit based financial aid that to create purely impartial estimates would almost be futile, some argue.

In response to the range of opinions some institutions such as Rice University, Duke University and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities only include need-based aid in their cost calculators. Other public institutions such as the University of Florida, ask for grade point averages and standardized testing scores to see if students can qualify for merit awards. Selective institutions have chosen to not include opportunities for merit based scholarships even if they are available.

While the effectiveness of the calculators is in doubt, one thing seems pretty clear to me. If there is a soon-to-be college student who can create a resource that unites all of the schools’ cost calculators and is similar to the Common Application in its navigation features, they could potentially make enough money to pay their skyrocketing tuition by the time they graduate.