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New Online Resource Points Students to Tuition Calculators

A new online resource is calling attention to colleges and universities that have failed to meet a federal requirement to place a "net price calculator" on their Web sites. According to James Boyle, who created NetPriceCalculator.info, 272 institutions lack a calculator as stipulated by law. Many others, he added, don't comply with the "letter or spirit of the minimum standards." The resource was launched just as the Department of Education announced a new student video competition to call attention to the presence of the calculators on school Web sites.

The net price calculator requirement was announced in 2008 as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act. The act called for each postsecondary institution that participates in Title IV student aid programs to post a calculator online that uses institutional data to provide an estimated net price for attending the school. To help institutions adhere to the new requirement, the National Center for Education Statistics created a template version of the calculator as a starting point.

Many of the laggards are small for-profit operations, such as the Academy Of Hair Design in Salina, KS and Divers Institute of Technology in Seattle. But others are larger public or private not-for-profit institutions, including Antioch University-Los Angeles Branch in Culver City, CA.

Boyle runs a public relations firm that has represented educational vendors, but he said the new Web site is an effort he's undertaken independently.

He said he created the site to help students, parents, and school advisors find a school's tuition calculator quickly and easily. With the help of graduate students, Boyle did a review of 6,000 college and university sites. He estimated that 95 percent of institutions have placed the utility on their sites, though some are difficult to find and have varying degrees of usability and accuracy.

"Many institutions have installed exceptionally useful net price calculators which exceed minimum mandate requirements and focus on delivering a useful planning estimate to prospective students and families," Boyle said. "However, more than six weeks after the deadline--and with three years of notice--it is frankly a bit surprising that so many colleges and universities have so far failed to place a net price calculator on their school Web sites."

Gaps that Boyle has identified in which schools aren't complying with minimum standards include:

  • Not making sure that the cost of attendance varies appropriately by parameters such as housing choice or program of study;
  • Not showing other available self-help aid to pay for the net price of college;
  • Not disclosing the percentage of first-time, full-time students who receive gift aid;
  • Not labeling the calculator as a "net price calculator" versus other terms, such as "tuition calculator;" and
  • For multi-campus schools, not reporting correctly based on a specific campus.

NetPriceCalculator.info has launched at the same time that the Department of Ed has announced a new video challenge for students to broaden public awareness of tools on the department's Web site that help communicate the cost of a college degree.

The contest asks high school and college students to produce short videos highlighting why the calculators are a useful resource. A panel of higher education stakeholders will judge the entries, and the top three contestants will each win a $1,500 cash prize. Video submissions are due by January 31, 2012. The winners will be announced by late spring.

"Having a college degree has never been more important. And getting one has never been more expensive," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "We want to give prospective students and their families the information they need to make smart educational choices during tough economic times. Net price calculators can help potential degree seekers better understand which schools they can afford to attend and how much debt they will have to take on to get a degree."

Visit netpricecalculator.info for more information. To learn more about the video challenge, visit netpricecalc.challenge.gov.

Correction: This article has been modified since its original publication to correct a factual error. We erroneously reported that Central Oregon Community College in Bend, OR did not have a net price calculator on its Web site. That is not the case. Central Oregon CC's calculator can be found here. [Last updated Jan. 4, 2012 at 11:27 p.m.] --Joshua Bolkan
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