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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas
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Report Critiques Net Price Calculators

March 23, 2011

As the October 2011 deadline approaches for colleges and universities to post net price calculators on their Web sites, a new report by the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) provides a critique of the calculators developed by some early adopters and offers recommendations for making them more useful for prospective students. "Adding It All Up: An Early Look at Net Price Calculators" includes examples of calculators and discusses their strengths and limitations.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 mandated that all institutions develop and post net price calculators to help students and families understand their likely out-of-pocket expenses for higher education. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) was charged with developing a template that institutions can choose to use or modify if they wish. Institutions are also free to develop their own model, or adopt one of several developed by third-party service providers. By law, the deadline was set at two years after NCES released its template, or October 29, 2011.

The TICAS report recommends that colleges:

  • Make the calculators easy to find, providing prominent links on pages that prospective students are likely to visit.
  • Limit the number of required answers, clearly marking which are required, and keeping questions simple.
  • Make results easy to understand and compare by emphasizing the "net price" figure (full cost of attendance minus grants and scholarships), not what's left after subtracting work-study and loans.
  • Make it clear that submitting personal contact information is optional, and protect users' privacy.
    Net price calculators were also one of the subjects of a hearing held by the Federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance on March 17.

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