While current college calculators offer simple information, creating a more robust tool for students considering college options could allow the inclusion of important non-cost factors, according to a new report from California Competes.
The report, “A College Considerator: Factors to Weigh in Contemplating College Affordability,” was released Monday as part of the Lumina Foundation’s Ideas Summit on New Models of Student Financial Support. It details California Compete’s effort to create the College Considerator to help students consider college options, including issues of affordability and intangible factors like the “life-enrichment value” of college.
“The ‘right’ choices can’t be calculated with any precision,” the report’s authors write. “Ultimately there is no way of avoiding the fact that whether, how and where to go to college involves leaps of faith … With any tool, the best we can hope to do is help the potential student think it through.”
The Considerator includes several tangible and intangible outputs, including the student’s likelihood of graduation and how long it will take based on factors like how much the student works and whether they are enrolled full- or part-time. The tool also factors in the colleges’ graduation rates, actual prices and financial aid estimates to create a debt hazard indicator to give the student an idea of potential loan debt compared to predicted earnings after college.
The report describes what California Competes calls the “break-even age,” or the age a graduate will be when the cumulative benefits of college surpass the costs based on the gains and losses – like cash flow and enjoyment values -- associated with attending college.
The tool takes into consideration factors not associated with cost, such as the added value of the college experience and the life-enrichment value that may occur from attending college, which “may help a prospective student develop a better sense of what he wants from a college education and how much it might be worth paying to get it,” the authors write.
Although some evidence suggests that information in a simple form is more useful, “attempts to simplify can lead people in bad directions,” the authors conclude. “In sharing the alpha version of the considerator we should be asking not only whether a next version could be effective in guiding consumers and/or their advisors, but also whether is would guide them well.”
Publication Date: 4/16/2014