A call for transparency in college pricing has finally become reality.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania released a study of Net Price Calculators (NPCs). NPCs are a tool on every college’s website, though many are difficult to find. The NPCs are supposed to allow you to find your price at that school if accepted. In addition to being sometimes difficult to find, the authors found that NPCSs often produced misleading, inaccurate, or out-of-date information.

Interestingly, this sounds eerily familiar to findings from a much larger study of financial aid award letters conducted last year. After examining thousands of award letters, those researchers from New America found award letters to often be unclear and misleading. Sometimes, letters were almost intentionally vague. Transparency, like truth in advertising, can be deemphasized when the seller (colleges) is trying to entice the buyer (us) to pay the price they want to charge.

Transparency, it turns out, is more than a one-way street. 

Genuine transparency requires all parties involved in a transaction to fully understand what the other parties want in return. Too often you’ll hear a college or university claim that they take great pride in their efforts to be transparent. Meanwhile, the prospective student and their family can’t make heads or tails of what they are being told. 

If we want to purchase a car or house, we start by narrowing our possibilities to a price range. This ensures that we only look at cars or houses that we can afford. Of course, we don’t make our final buying decision based solely on price, but the more expensive the item, the more cost will inevitably influence the entire shopping process. College costs are now well more expensive than a car; sometimes more expensive than a house.

But fixing the NPC means that students and families are forced to select their shortlist of schools without knowing what they’ll be asked to pay. This clearly puts the public at a disadvantage. Why shouldn’t the public be able to narrow our search by price BEFORE investigating any particular college or university.

TuitionFit makes transparency in college pricing possible. 

Until this year, there was no way to do that with college prices. But TuitionFit changes the game. This free online platform allows the public to share financial aid award letters. After anonymizing those letters and simplifying the pricing data, the site displays actual prices for every user to see.

With over half of all colleges and universities failing to meet their enrollment goals last year, the public should be in a position to influence prices. This is basic supply and demand. We just need to know the actual prices. Well, guess what … we already have them. They are in the award letters that colleges send out by the millions each year. We just have to put all those individual prices together into a central resource so we can all see them together.

If students and families share their award letters, TuitionFit becomes a true game changer for the public. It empowers the public to create real transparency—the kind that makes sense to the people who have to pay the bills. And best of all, more students will find a college they can really afford and fewer students will go deep into debt and/or drop out. And everyone has the chance to find their ideal financial fit. 


Author Details: My name is Mark Salisbury, and I’ve spent my whole career in higher education: as an administrator, researcher, and teacher at Augustana College and the University of Iowa, and as an admissions recruiter and soccer coach at Idaho State University, Central Michigan University, and Missouri University of Science and Technology. I have a PhD in Higher Education from the University of Iowa (Let’s go, Hawkeyes!), and additional degrees from the University of Kansas (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!), and the University of Minnesota (Ski-U-Mah!).[/author_info] [/author]

Image by Cindy Parks from Pixabay