Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Problem with College Cost Calculators

Lynn O'Shaughnessy, one of my favorite authors covering the family college prep odyssey, has a good article on problems with the government's new net price calculator requirement for college websites.

In response to the "college loan meltdown" of 2009-10, the Obama administration released new requirements for colleges offering US federal student loans, which essentially includes all accredited colleges. One of the requirements is to make a net price calculator available on their website by October 2011 (Obama seems to love long deadlines), to help parents figure out what it would really cost for their child to attend.

Unfortunately, it seems the federal government set the bar for the minimally acceptable calculator too low, the required inputs are just too broad to capture an accurate snapshot of your family's financial situation 5, 10, or almost 20 years into the future. If you remember the FAFSA from your own college days, you'll recall the high level of detail required to accurately report on your family's financial status. Now a calculator with FAFSA-level detail would be flawed in the other direction, asking for so much information, about a time so far in the future, to be of any use to anyone. But, there is more than likely a happy medium, which it seems the fed has undershot by at least a question or two.

Have you found a college calculator that did a great job getting the information that matters and presenting your options? Please share it with our other readers!

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