The soaring cost of higher education gets a lot of media attention. You'll see headlines like "How to Avoid Crippling Student Loan Debt" or "Tuition Costs Hit All-Time High." While there is some truth to these kinds of articles, they don’t always tell the whole story.
Colleges and universities across the country provide substantial grants and scholarships to students to make college more affordable than these articles would suggest. It can shock students to hear that a college with a sticker price (or total yearly cost) of $60,000 may be more affordable than a school with a $25,000 sticker price.
The latest annual report from the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) found that nearly 90% of students at private, nonprofit institutions received a tuition discount. In fact, the average tuition discount is nearly 50% of the listed tuition price for the institution. These “discounts” come in the form of federal and state grants and scholarships directly from the college, based on the student’s academic and financial circumstances.
With nearly a 50% discount, a private college with a $40,000 sticker price for tuition could look more like $20,000.
It isn’t only private colleges that discount their price. Ruffalo Noel Levitz found that public institutions discount their overall direct costs (tuition/fees and room/board) through financial aid awards by around 17%. That discount means the typical student receives average grants or scholarships of around $4,000 per year, or $16,000 overall. Those are some pretty significant savings.
Sticker Price vs. Net Price
A 2017 Sallie Mae survey found that 69% of students are scared away from a college option because of the sticker price, often without knowing what their actual cost would be. Students and parents typically look at the sticker price and think that’s the amount they’ll have to pay. It can be disheartening to cross out a dream school because one thinks they have to pay the full sticker price out of pocket.
Colleges commonly publish their sticker price for their cost of attendance. The sticker price is comprised of five pieces:
- Tuition and fees.
- Room and board.
- Books and educational supplies.
- Personal living expenses.
However, the most important thing to understand is that almost every student is likely to pay less than the sticker price, based on their unique circumstances. The net price is the total amount that a student will be asked to pay after scholarships and grants are subtracted from the sticker price. These scholarships and grants are determined by the student’s academic achievements and their financial circumstances.
While many people assume only the highest achieving students receive an academic scholarship, almost every school has different academic criteria for determining scholarship eligibility. A student who aced the ACT®, for example, might be eligible for a full-tuition merit scholarship. Another student with an average academic profile may still qualify for a big scholarship.
Additionally, many students qualify for need-based aid from the federal and state government and from the college itself. Often, need-based grants from institutions are even given to students who are well above the financial cutoffs for federal and state grant programs. Therefore, a family that may not qualify for a Pell Grant (which can be up to $6,095 in the 2018-19 school year) may still be eligible for need-based grants offered by the institution.
When most people think of scholarships, they immediately think of awards from organizations like the local Rotary Club, Dollars for Scholars, or large corporations. However, according to the College Board report Trends in Student Aid 2017, 87% of all grants and scholarships actually come from the federal government, the state government, and the colleges themselves. The average student receives $8,440 in these government and college awards.
It’s important for every student to understand their personal net price at multiple colleges before deciding where to apply or enroll.
Where to Find Net Price Estimates
Starting in 2011, every college was required to publish a net price calculator (NPC) on its website to help prospective students estimate their cost of attendance. While this is a huge step forward in bringing cost transparency to students and families, many calculators can be difficult to use and don’t include all aid.
NPCs often require students to track down and enter data from old tax forms, making the process difficult and time-consuming. In fact, each college’s calculator can take nearly 20 minutes to complete. With the typical student considering 10 or more colleges, that’s at least three hours spent researching cost alone, not to mention the time spent on finding ideal academic programs.
Finally, a student may not know about schools that would offer them a great net price. With over 4,500 colleges in the country, it’s easy to miss hundreds of great options due to a lack of awareness.
In 2014, College Raptor launched a college discovery service to help college-bound students by providing personalized net price estimates at every college without asking for a mountain of financial information. Instead of taking 20 minutes to get one net price estimate, a student can get their personalized college cost at thousands of schools in only a few minutes.
College Raptor also enables students to consider affordability earlier in the process while discovering additional quality college options that are good academic, cultural, and financial fits. College Raptor’s matching system helps students estimate their acceptance odds, find academic majors, and learn more about the campus community.
College Raptor users regularly report they were able to find college options that saved them $100,000 or more over four years of college. One recent user stated, “I thought that I was neither smart nor rich enough to attend Brown. College Raptor, however, allowed me to look past the acceptance rate and into the SAT scores, look past the sticker price and into the estimated net cost. It made me realize that I could have a chance at gaining admission into Brown.”
The net price information can transform the student’s education, enabling them to enroll at a great college, persist, and graduate with significantly less debt.
College Raptor’s college discovery service, including personalized net price estimates, is now available through Kuder Navigator®. Students can easily move from learning about their best career options to finding appropriate colleges inside Navigator. This breakthrough creates a streamlined process to guide students on their college options with a focus on finding affordable educational options.
To learn more about College Match, or to add it to a Navigator license, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sticker Price vs. Net Price Examples
Here are a few examples from College Raptor inside Kuder Navigator that highlight the insights students can gain from a personalized net price estimate.
High School GPA: 3.5
ACT Score: 25
Family Income: $65,000
Home State: Iowa
College: Coe College (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
Sticker Price: $57,200
Net Price: $18,250
This student could receive an estimated $39,000 in scholarships annually, dropping the estimated net price to $18,250 per year.
High School GPA: 3.25
ACT Score: 22
Family Income: $100,000
Home State: Oklahoma
College: University of Oklahoma (Norman, Oklahoma)
Sticker Price: $27,072
Net Price: $16,772
This student could receive over $10,000 in scholarships annually, saving $41,000 over four years.
High School GPA: 4.0
SAT Score: 1350
Family Income: $120,000
Home State: Virginia
College: Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)
Sticker Price: $74,535
Net Price: $24,635
This student could receive almost $50,000 a year in scholarships, saving nearly $200,000 over four years.
About the Author
Jeff Pierpont is the director of business development at College Raptor.