New College Cost Calculators: What You Need to Know

Most parents aren’t going to pay full price for college.

College costs aren’t nearly as high as the official sticker prices. According to the College Board, two-thirds of families will capture a price discount on college costs.

Too bad parents and teenagers don’t know this. If they did, it would certainly expand the college choices of millions of students. And that’s a big reason why the  federal government is requiring colleges and universities to post college cost calculators on their websites. These so-called net price calculators are supposed to provide individual families with an idea of what the price will be for their child to attend a particular institution.

Using a net price calculator, one family might discover that a $50,000 college will cost them only $7,500. Another family using the calculator could determine that the cost, will in fact, be $50,000 for them.

Colleges must install their net-price calculators no later than October 2011. Some early birds already have their calculators in place.

These calculators could bring much-needed transparency into college prices, but there is one significant problem. Colleges can develop their own calculators, but many are expected to use the federal calculator template, which is flawed. Using federal college cost calculators could give you a wildly inaccurate number. You can read more about problems with the federal college cost calculator at my college blog for CBSMoneyWatch.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and a new eBook, Shrinking the Cost of College. She also blogs for CBSMoneyWatch and US News. Follow her on Twitter.

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  1. Great post, Lynn. I appreciate your work, but why do you quote the College Board? I think they’re not a good source, and I’m not the only one going after them. For instance, Richard Vedder at CCAP is taking on Sandy Baum and The College Board.