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Net price calculator helps students determine actual college tuition costs


Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Parents and students who wonder how much they will be paying for college will soon be able to get better estimates using a net price calculator (NPC).

All colleges and universities that participate in Title IV federal student aid programs are required to have this tool in place on their Web site by October 29, 2011, in accordance with the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). By inputting personal data, including family size and income, students receive an estimate of their financial aid package which will impact the amount they actually pay for college.

NCES states that schools can use the NPC template designed by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), or they can create their own unique application. If colleges and universities choose the latter option, their calculator must include the key elements of the DOE's template, which is broken into two components.

In the first, schools provide data on the price of attendance and the median amount of financial aid that can be awarded to and accepted by college students, NCES reports. This includes scholarship and grant assistance. The second component requires prospective students to answer nine questions that help the NPC generate their dependency status, estimated cost of attendance and expected family contribution (EFC). Students' EFC is generated based on information from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) database.

In a recent Associated Press (AP) article, writer Justin Pope reported that many schools already have the net price calculator up on their Web site, well ahead of the deadline. This feature will help students find colleges that may be the best match for them. Oftentimes, applicants do not learn how much they will have to pay for college until after they have been accepted. The new tool provides a way around this problem.

The news source also highlighted two potential benefits to the families of college-bound students. First, they will gain a more accurate idea of how much a school will cost, which, in turn, will help them identify which options are within their price range and how much they need to save. Second, families may be surprised to see how affordable certain schools are and may refrain from taking them off of their potential schools list.

AP quotes Myra Smith, executive director of financial aid services at College Board, who asked the high school students on the organization's advisory board whether they thought the tool would discourage them from applying to college. According to Ms. Smith, the calculator "has the benefit of telling them better news" about the cost of college.ADNFCR-16000756-ID-800621623-ADNFCR

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