Net price calculators have successfully narrowed the gap between colleges’ published prices and the bills families will actually see, but the neediest students may still have trouble grasping how much they’ll be expected to pay, according to findings of a new report.
“In the right ballpark? Assessing the accuracy of net price calculators” examines net price calculator outputs and actual financial aid awards for 455 first-time, full-time students with an expected family contribution (EFC) of zero across seven four-year institutions, on the theory that those with the lowest means need the most accurate picture of college costs. Each of the schools studied currently uses the federal net price calculator template.
After comparing outputs with actual awards, authors Aaron M. Anthony and Lindsay Page, both from the University of Pittsburgh, and Abigail Seldin, the creator of College Abacus and current ECMC vice president, found the template works well for federal and state aid estimates. For institutional aid, however – which often is contingent on a student’s academic record or timeliness filing aid applications – the estimates were less accurate.
“In short, NPCs may help families with a ballpark estimate of their likely postsecondary expenses, but for many low-income families, the ballpark remains large, owing primarily to variation in grant aid provided by the institutions themselves,” the authors said.
To bridge the gap, the authors recommend colleges provide within the calculators more accompanying information on their institutional aid, such as funding requirements, application procedures, and deadlines. Institutions should also be sure to update data the calculators cite regularly, to ensure users get the most accurate picture of college costs and available aid, the authors conclude.
Publication Date: 2/2/2015