The Apples To Oranges Of College Costs

As college price tags continue to rise, along with student debt, The College Whisperer™ takes a hard look at comparing college costs.

How Much Is That College In The Window?
How Much Is That College In The Window?
T.R. of Dix Hills, NY writes:

I've been trying to figure out college costs by using the Net Price Calculators as appear on most college websites. Are they accurate? 

The College Whisperer responds:

Ah, yes. The Net Price Calculator. Created for the good of the college student (and his/her parents). But have we instead created a Frankenstonian distopia? 

Assuming (and you know what happens when we do that) every college used the very same calculator, taking into account exactly the same factors, and actually "calculated" costs by methodology reduced to one, uniform formula, one might actually be able to arrive at a reasonable -- if not entirely good faith -- estimate of college costs.

Problem is, while colleges that receive Title IV federal aid are required to maintain and post on their websites a Net Price Calculator, they are not required to utilize the same calculator, let alone the data and number-crunching by which they ultimately arrive at the bottom line figure commonly known as your cost.

Call it The Price Is Right of college cost calculating. Try to compare the costs at one college by way of its Net Price Calculator to that of another college using the second college's Net Price Calculator, and you might as well be comparing the price of apples to a spanking new Maserati.

Then, too, you have to take into account a college's "puffing," as in, "We tell you only as much as we want you to know, and, sometimes, only what you want to hear."

The Wall Street Journal published an article earlier this year that goes to the very heart of the Net Price Calculator conundrum. Read, When Colleges Lowball Costs.
Armed with a single, standard, universal Net Price Calculator, you might find some semblance of uniformity, if not accuracy. Then again, perhaps not. Ever try calculating an exact "due date" using a "Pregnancy Calculator"? [Okay, let's not go there! ;-)]

Of course, you can always consult your Ouija board or local psychic when attempting to figure out what college will cost you. When using the Net Price Calculator -- any Net Price Calculator -- it is Caveat Emptor. Or better put, Student Beware. As with most of life's calculations, YMMV -- Your Mileage May Vary!
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To level the playing field somewhat when calculating college costs, try to use the same Net Price Calculator for each college. Alas, is there a "universal" Net Price Calculator? Well, we did manage to find one. Of course, it's the Net Price Calculator for the Universal Beauty School! Who knew? :-)
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For more on comparing college costs (as well as finding colleges that match your interests), check out collegerealitycheck.com.

Plan. Prepare. Prevail! 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of 
The College Whisperer. Who knows what peril lurks in the college application and admissions process? The College Whisperer™ knows. . . 

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This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mary Fallon April 30, 2013 at 01:24 PM
Here's how you can tell how accurate an estimate from a college's net price calculator is: if it asks 30 to 40 questions (financial and academic) then your aid eligibility, net price and out-of-pocket cost estimates will be accurate. And these are easy and fast to use - taking 10 to 12 minutes to answer. About 1,500 colleges posted sophisticated NPCs that are based on current costs and use algorithms to reliable create personalized estimates. Unfortunately, the majority of post-secondary schools built their NPCs on a federal template that is based on two-year-old cost information, doesn't follow the federal formula for estimating need, and uses need questions to estimate merit aid. NPCs based on the federal template ask 12 or fewer questions.
The College Whisperer™ April 30, 2013 at 01:46 PM
Right you are, Mary. Which only goes to prove that, the more you ask, the more you will find out. And an educated student is a college's best consumer! Thanks for reading, and for posting.


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