College Board recently started the net price calculator, which promises to determine the net cost for a student to attend a university before he or she commits to the school. This new application is making great strides toward increasing price transparency in higher education. The calculator walks students through a series of worksheets that will enable them to list their resources and generally presents a whopping tuition payment as an achievable goal. The problem with this calculator is that it does not take into consideration that college tuition is always changing. While the calculator only gives a one year expected price, students who are considering applying to colleges need to remember the changing — normally increasing — cost of a college education.
When I was applying to the College of William and Mary in 2008, the total cost for an in-state student for the 2008-2009 academic year was $18,156 according to the College’s admissions information. Now, the expected total cost for an in-state student to attend the College for the 2011-2012 academic year is $24,824 according to the College’s records. No price calculator can predict a 36.7 percent increase in tuition over the course of three years. These increases in tuition have occurred for a variety of reasons, including the increase in the percentage of in-state students at the College and decreased funding from the state.
Rather than investing all of its efforts into creating a college net cost calculator, College Board should consider generating individual charts of tuition changes in colleges. These charts would provide access to understandable information that could presents trends in individual colleges’ tuitions and fees. Currently, College Board shows only the tuition for the current academic year, which while helpful and informational, does not give the prospective student any idea about what that school’s tuition will be like in the future.
While it is important for students to gather as much information about the total price of a school before committing to it, there needs to be more acknowledgement of the ever-changing cost of tuition from both the individual school and College Board. I understand that it requires a huge amount of money to keep the doors of a college open, especially a public, state school, open. This, however, does not have to mean that students should live with constant anxiety about how they will pay their tuition if there is another increase in fees. I approve of College Board’s efforts to increase transparency in the cost of higher education, but there still needs to be more readily available information on recent trends in tuition at individual schools.