Parents who try to determine how much college will cost often are confused by the guidance they find. They find college cost calculators on each college web site. They fill out the FAFSA and get a report. Those that dig further find cost estimates on the College Scorecard, the College Navigator, and a plethora of private sites. What are the differences between the college calculators and FAFSA? What can you rely on?
In an earlier post, I explained how federal laws govern affect information about college financial aid. The laws tell us that there are certain responsibilities that the government, and that colleges have to create "transparency" in understanding how much college will cost. Let's look at those responsibilities.
Section 1015a (h)(3) says that any institution "that receives Federal funds ... shall make publicly available on the institution's website a net price calculator to help current and prospective students, families, and other consumers estimate a student's individual net price at such institution of higher education." This calculator may be the calculator that the government developed, or it could be one developed by anyone as long as it uses the same data elements as the government-developed calculator. This calculator is required to be individually tailored to the student's circumstances, so it should take into account information such as the actual family income and assets. You would be reasonable to believe that you can rely on the number calculated, right?
Not exactly. Because the very next section requires institutions to clearly state:
Shepherding our children to adulthood demands our love, our attention, and our acceptance of who they are.