New Law Increases Transparency in College Tuition

While it should be of no surprise that a college education is going to cost you, it can be confusing trying to figure out exactly how much. But students everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief because, as of Oct. 29, a new federal law has taken place that will make college costs more transparent to prospective and current students and their families.

This new law is detailed under SEC. 132 "Transparency in College Tuition for Consumers" in the Higher Education Opportunity Act, enacted on August 14, 2008. According to it, colleges and universities that participate in Title IV or federal student-aid programs must display a net-price calculator on their website. The purpose of this publically-available calculator is to provide students with a school-specific estimate of the cost of tuition and fees.

Using institutional data, the calculator provides information on the estimated net price of college that is based on the individual circumstances of a student. The calculator requires students to fill out information regarding factors such as household size, number of college students in one household, and parental income. It also allows for input that can decrease college costs such as residence plans, awarded scholarships, or grants acquired. After subtracting expected aid, students will receive information about their estimated cost of attendance that will include specifics concerning tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and personal expenses.

It is hoped that this online tool will allow students to more accurately determine the cost of attendance so that they can better decide which schools they can afford and how much they need to save in order to attend them. According to the law, Title IV postsecondary institutions can use their own net price calculator on their websites as long as it includes the same data elements and notices stated in the Act. These types of institutions also have the option to use the Net Price Calculator application developed by the National Center for Education Statistics the Office of Postsecondary Education and IT Innovative Solutions Corp on institutional websites.

Title IV institutions are those that receive Federal funds under title IV, including loans, grants, and work-study student-aid programs. Federal student loan programs include Federal Perkins Loans, Stafford Loans, or PLUS Loans. Federal student aid grants include the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Academic Competitiveness Grant, National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant, and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants. Federal Work-Study Programs offer eligible students part-time jobs that help them pay for educational expenses.

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