Net price calculators, required on almost all college web sites since October 2011, can help prospective students and families look past often scary “sticker prices” and gain a better understanding of which schools they might be able to afford, before they have to decide where to apply. Unfortunately, our research has found that many of these online tools are difficult to find, use, and compare.
To make net price calculators more useful and accessible for students and families, we strongly support the bipartisan Net Price Calculator Improvement Act (HR 3694), introduced by Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX). This legislation builds on existing Department of Education guidance for where the calculators should be located on college web sites, how they incorporate military and veteran benefits, and what results they must provide. Additionally, the bill protects students’ privacy by prohibiting any personally identifiable information from being sold or made available to third parties.
The bill also allows the Department of Education to create a web site that lets students answer one set of questions and obtain net price estimates for multiple colleges at once. This would dramatically simplify the current time-consuming process of finding and filling out a different calculator on each college’s web site. The content and design of that central web site would be reviewed and consumer-tested before going live, to ensure that it meets the needs of students and families. Colleges would still be able to create their own customized net price calculators, as long as they meet the minimum requirements.
By making these tools easier to find, use, and compare, the Net Price Calculator Improvement Act will help students and families make more informed decisions about which colleges to apply to and attend.
For more information about net price calculators, visit our resource page.