Posts tagged ‘Cost of Attendance’

September 2, 2013

College Net Price Calculators are not accurate for business owners

by Grace

A word to the wise —

Net price calculators are not accurate for business owners and other situations.

Here’s the warning from Bowdoin College:

For some families (e.g. divorces/separated, business owners) using the Net Price Calculator will be less reliable because of the complexity of their family financial circumstances. The calculator is not intended for international families….

The general message is that if your family’s financial circumstances deviate from a “typical” situation, the simplified NPC calculations are less likely to predict your cost to attend college.  In the case of business owners, schools usually will ask for additional financial information, which often results in revenue that had been netted out being added back in for the purpose of determining expected family contribution to college costs.

Net Price Calculators have been required since 2011.

In accordance with the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), as amended, as of October 29, 2011 each postsecondary institution that participates in the Title IV federal student aid programs is required to post a net price calculator on its Web site that uses institutional data to provide estimated net price information to current and prospective students and their families based on a student’s individual circumstances. This calculator should allow students to calculate an estimated net price of attendance at an institution (defined as cost of attendance minus grant and scholarship aid) based on what similar students paid in a previous year. The net price calculator is required for all Title IV institutions that enroll full-time, first-time degree- or certificate-seeking undergraduate students.

Related:

June 10, 2013

Preferential packaging – college financial aid as a recruiting tool

by Grace

Preferential packaging of financial aid is commonly used by private colleges and universities.  Because schools are not transparent about this strategy, many families are ignorant of how it works.  Muhlenberg College is unusually open about explaining this practice.

Preferential packaging means, simply, that the students a college would most like to enroll will receive the most advantageous financial aid packages.

There are three basic types of financial aid (FA):  grants, loans, and work.

A preferential financial aid package includes a far greater percentage of grant aid than self-help (loans and work). Because they have discretion over how much grant aid they choose to award a student, a college can award a bigger grant to a student they would really like to enroll….

Willamette University also is exceptionally forthright about its preferential packaging.

For students with demonstrated financial need, the percentage of need that is met with “gift-aid” (scholarships and grants from all sources) will also reflect the students’ academic standing within our admitted applicant pool. In other words, the stronger the student, the greater the scholarship award is likely to be.

Let’s look at an example from a CollegeConfidential post.

In this case the college’s Cost of Attendance (COA) is $40,000, and two applicants have the same financial need but quite different academic credentials.

Student A
ACT 33
GPA 4.0
EFC = $7k
Student B
ACT 24
GPA 3.2
EFC = $7k

Student A is more attractive to the college because his stats would improve the school’s stats.  Perhaps Student A is also an Underrepresented Minority (URM), another desirable factor.  Both students will be offered $10,000 in FA, but Student A will receive a preferential package that does not include a loan.

Financial Aid Offered
Student A:  $8,000 grant; $2,000 work-study – Total = $10,000
Student B:  $3,000 grant; $5,000 loan; $2,000 work-study – Total = $10,000

Note that these awards are technically “need-based”, but in fact do take merit into consideration.  If it is the official policy of this college only to offer FA based on need and not on merit, another student with the highest of academic credentials but lacking any financial need (EFC = COA) would receive nothing.

What it means to applicants

  • Students seeking to maximize financial aid should apply to schools where their statistics place them in the upper third of the applicant pool.
  • Students with no financial need are shut out of many merit awards that include a need component.

Related:

October 28, 2011

Net Price Calculator – a helpful first step in the college search

by Grace

Starting October 29, all colleges are required to provide a Net Price Calculator (NPC) showing the ‘net price’ (defined as tuition, fees and indirect expenses minus grant and scholarship aid) for individual students based on their personal status.   For more details you can go here.

I created three fictional student profiles and ran them through the calculations of a dozen colleges.  In all three cases the student was a top scholar with high test scores who resides in New York State.  The only difference between the three profiles was the family’s financial situation.  The earned income for the three different families were $50,000 (low), $80,000 (medium), and $150,000 (high).  Here are the net Cost of Attendance (COA) results.  [UPDATE:  Harvard figures have been updated to correct a mistake.]

Some initial observations:

  • A low- to middle-income student enjoys a tremendous bargain at many top-ten schools, if he is admitted.  With acceptance rates in the single digits for some of these schools, that’s a big “IF”.
  • At most schools ranked below top ten, a low-income student will pay at least $20,000 a year to attend.  (Note that all these were out-of-state schools for our fictional student.  I plan to run in-state examples later.)
  • Quick comparisons can be made based on NPC results.  For example, with similar COA figures, it appears that UVA offers more need-based aid for low-income students than Denison does.  The detailed report generated as part of the NPC confirms this, indicating the next step might be a request for more detailed information from the college admissions staff.
  • Merit scholarships may be the biggest unknown factor.  I would be careful about relying on NPC figures for this, even for schools that explicitly state that they include merit in their calculations.  Further research will usually be required.

Bottom line:  Families should run NPC reports for all schools on a student’s initial list as a useful first step in comparing affordability among the various options.

* CHART EXPLANATION:
….•  Rank:  USNWR ranking; NR = not ranked nationally
….•  COA:  Cost of Attendance
….•  Net COA:  Income Categories are Low = $50,000; Med = $80,000, High = $150,000
….•  Merit Aid:
……….1 – NPC does not consider merit aid.
……….2 – NPC considers at least some merit aid.
……….3 – Unclear if merit aid is considered.
……….4 – School does not offer merit aid.

** This NPC non-resident COA is at odds with the information on the college website.  According to the UNM website, it appears the NPC COA should be increased by approximately $13,000 a year.  Since it’s unknown how that change would affect the net price, I would consider all these UNM numbers to be unreliable.

October 19, 2011

Some basics on how colleges use financial need in admissions decisions

by Grace

Here are some terms used to describe the ways in which colleges may incorporate student financial need into admissions decisions.  This generalized information can serve as an introduction to a topic that comprises many shades of gray and is often confusing to families.

NEED-BLIND ADMISSIONS  —  Students are evaluated and admitted without regard to their financial need.  Virtually all public schools fall into this category and many private schools are mostly need-blind, but may use financial need to decide the fate of  borderline, wait-listed, international, or transfer students.  Additionally, this explanation by Mark Kantrowitz shows how the waters can be muddied by a school’s preference for wealthy students.

Need-blind admissions also doesn’t mean that the admissions is wealth-blind. A college might ignore financial need for low-income students, but then grant an admissions preference for high-income students. Most colleges define need-blind as meaning that financial need has no role in the decision to deny admission to low-income students. As such, financial need is not treated as a negative characteristic for low-income students. But colleges can treat a lack of financial need as a positive characteristic for high-income students and still consider themselves to be need-blind. For example, some need-blind colleges will admit full-pay but borderline candidates or grant wealthier students more attractive financial aid packages.

NEED-AWARE, NEED-SENSITIVE, OR RESOURCE-AWARE ADMISSIONS  —  A student’s financial need is typically considered in the school’s acceptance decision.  Enrollment management techniques are employed as a way to make sure the student body generates a sufficient  level of income for the school.  If you can pay your own way you are more attractive than a needy applicant, at least on that basis.  Consequently, a student who does not need financial aid may have an edge in getting accepted over an otherwise equally qualified student.  (“Need-aware” and similar terms are increasingly being used to describe many colleges that self-identify as “need-blind”, in the belief that only schools that ignore financial factors for ALL applicants are truly need-blind.)

FULL-NEED SCHOOL  —  One that claims to meet the student’s full financial needs, defined as the Cost of Attendance (COA) minus the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  It is worth noting that many families are surprised to learn that the school’s determination of financial need is often lower than the family’s own assessment.  Also, the school may decide that a loan “award” will be used to meet all or part of the student’s need.

GAP STUDENT  —  Student whose financial needs are not fully met by the college.  The gap student is at higher risk for dropping out.

ADMIT-DENY ADMISSIONS  —  What “need-blind” actually means to a student unable to afford the college to which he was admitted.  If the school offers insufficient financial aid to cover the gap between the COA and the EFC, the student is effectively “denied” admission.

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