|Sunday, May 26, 2013|
The College Affordability and Transparency Website: Tools to Make Informed Choices
The U.S. department of education has rolled out the College Affordability and Transparency Center (CATC) website to help track the cost of college while providing tools and data to help consumers make decisions about their higher education options.
From the official June 12 press release:
"The U.S. Department of Education continued to increase transparency around the cost of college by updating several lists on its College Affordability and Transparency Center today, highlighting institutions with the highest and lowest tuition and net price, and those schools where prices are rising the fastest. In addition, this year the Department is releasing full lists so consumers can see how much a specific school costs in comparison to similar institutions."
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan added, "Students need to know up front how much college will actually cost them instead of waiting to find out when the first student loan bill arrives. These lists are a major step forward in unraveling the mystery of higher education pricing."
It's good news for consumers that the Department of Education is undertaking this ambitious project. For years, students and their families have handled cost comparisons on their own but have had mixed results. It can be overwhelming to compare all the options. Having access to a centralized database would definitely be helpful for families faced with an expensive decision today.
How does it work?
Go to the CATC site and the steps are laid out for you.
First, select the type of school you would like to attend, like a two-year or four-year institution. There are a variety of school types on the list, take a look:
Second, choose one of the four report types based on highest and lowest tuition and net prices after financial aid is awarded:
Third, run the report query, and you will be provided with a list of schools meeting the criteria:
Here is an example of a report:
You can then click on any of the listed schools, and are brought to the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator page, which provides more details about the school such as location, tuition, enrollment data and financial aid.
However, while this database can provide great information, it is not without room for improvement. While all of this data is now organized and easy to locate, being able to understand what it means and how to apply it remains a challenge.
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators released some helpful comments that people should consider while viewing this new website.
Cost vs value: Seeing a chart of costs is one thing. Determining the value provided by an institution is another. Consider what major you want to pursue and which school provides the best program for it, along with the cost. Comparing schools by considering raw numbers cannot account for value provided.
Limits on net price data: The net price figures on the site only use first-time, full-time freshmen who receive grant aid for the statistics. This does not account for many others including part-time and transfer students.
Remember location: Prices of schools in places like New York City can be much more expensive than schools in rural areas, and may offer radically different higher education programs. It can be like comparing apples and oranges, so again do not obsess over raw numbers.
Old data: Some of the numbers on these schools are out of date. Because the data are from previous academic years, recent changes to tuition and fees and financial aid are not necessarily reflected. Go directly to a school's website to get more up-to-date information.
It's still a work in progress: Since this was just rolled out, it would be expected that there are imperfections. This site would be improved if they provided more up-to-date data, instructions and/or articles talking about the topic. Students need to learn more about the topic in general before making decisions on the basic data provided.
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