Resources & Publications

The Cost of Admission

Mar 31, 2011

By Oct. 29, 2011, every postsecondary school that participates in federal financial aid programs will have to post a net price calculator on their websites to give students a broader picture of the true price of attendance.

Net price calculators are online tools that use college institutional data and student information to provide an estimate of the sticker price of a college minus grants or scholarships.  These tools generally can be useful for students but, on their own, are not sufficient enough to help vulnerable students make good decisions about postsecondary education.

In mid March, the federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance held a hearing on net price calculators and the barriers to access and persistence faced by non-traditional students. Dr. Sandy Baum, an advisory committee member for CLASP's Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success gave testimony that linked both topics.

"In principle, net price calculators can be very helpful for many students," Dr. Baum said. "But they are unlikely to solve the information problems of the most vulnerable students and those most at risk of making poor decisions about postsecondary education. Both institutions and the government will have to make energetic pro-active efforts with counselors and others if they are going to make these calculators useful to populations that are not already familiar with the college admissions game."

Dr. Baum also blogged about this in the Chronicle of Higher Education on March 22, 2011.

During the public comment period at the end of the hearing, CLASP senior policy analyst, Vickie Choitz, provided policy recommendations to the Advisory Committee. Her comments,  Risky Business: Helping Lower-Income Adult Students Minimize College Financial Risk and Maximize Success, recommended that the federal government maintain a fervent commitment to grant aid for low-income, low-skill students; provide more student support services tied to student aid; and hold higher education institutions accountable for results to lower-income, lower-skilled non-traditional students.

For more information about net price calculators, see the recent report from The Institute for College Access, Adding It All Up: An Early Look at Net Price Calculators. Also, visit Expanding Student Financing and Supports to learn about CLASP's financial aid policy recommendations.


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