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October 12, 2012 10:00 AM Net Price Calculators Don’t Work so Well

By Daniel Luzer

A few years ago the Department of Education announced the creation of Net Price Calculators. Soon every aspiring college student could take a look at a college’s Web site and figure out what they’d actually have to pay, out of pocket, to attend.

The idea was that if all potential students could figure out what they’d have pay at different institutions, choosing a college would be a lot easier. Well colleges implemented their net price calculators but it hasn’t really workout out very well.

According to an article by Beckie Supiano in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

[T]he calculators, which allow students to estimate what they would pay at a particular college after grants and scholarships, don’t seem to have gained much traction yet. While colleges have been required to post the calculators on their Web sites for nearly a year now, early evidence shows that only about a third of prospective students have tried one out.

Part of the problem here is that this sort of thing only works if everyone has the same system. Many of the college just implemented the Department of Education template calculator, which is sort of crappy.

Many colleges have, to their credit, implemented more robust calculators, but that doesn’t really help students that much, since the whole point is to be able to compare institutions.

It’s great if Purdue University has implemented a clear, precise system that allows me to understand that if I go there I’ll be $10,000 in debt at the end, but if other schools aren’t as clear it’s pretty much useless if I can’t understand all of the other options I’ve got.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer