When net price calculators (NPCs) were first mandated by Congress, they solved a major transparency problem in the higher education marketplace. “Prior to 2011, students applied for financial aid and sent in their college applications before ever knowing how much they would have to pay,” recalls financial aid veteran and CampusLogic Customer Success Manager Marc Alexander. “Today, it’s hard to imagine any major buying experience like that.”
Now that NPCs are standard “must-haves,” many schools are realizing their value beyond providing a snapshot of how much college will cost. In this third post of a six-part series, Alexander shares what he has seen when institutions use their net price calculators effectively. Outcomes include better student engagement, more informed students and families, enhanced financial literacy, and improved “stickiness” from college search through enrollment.
Generic Calculators Still Show a Murky Picture
Originally, the use of a net price calculator was supposed to help drive conversations about college affordability, create “what-if” scenarios, and encourage students and parents to explore payment options. But, says Alexander, the standard NPC offered to colleges for free by the Department of Education is, generally, inaccurate and misses many of the nuances of students in real life.
“This is the biggest disservice you can do for prospective families,” he adds. “Why scare them away with inaccurate estimates?”
That was the impetus for some schools and third-party vendors to build their own, he explains. “When done right, we see NPCs as an important part of the recruitment process—something that admissions and FinAid should embrace together.”
Calculations Should Go Beyond the Basics
Alexander continues: “Your NPC might be a student’s first in-depth look at your school—so you should try to make a good first impression and give them the accurate information they need. In fact, your NPC should be so accurate that their award letter should nearly match.”
Today’s students expect a much more personalized experience, he points out. “They want to know that you’re thinking of their needs—and their needs alone.” That means going beyond the one-dimensional tool provided by ED. It means complementing your regulatory mindset with ideas about what students and parents want to see in order to make informed decisions.
“Your NPC should include calculations for more than just first-time freshmen—like transfers and returning students,” Alexander says. Doing so, he adds, shows you’re taking an individual interest in each student.
Shameless Plug: Meet ClearCost, a Powerful Engagement Tool
At CampusLogic, we’re all about easy, mobile, personalized student financial services. ClearCost, the industry-leading commercial net price calculator, drives engaged students who’ll have more confidence in making their eventual, well-informed college choices.
Part of the CampusLogic student financial services platform, ClearCost gives students even more personalized calculations, including:
- Institutional aid
- Scholarship estimates
- Merit-aid criteria questions
- Variable cost of attendance (i.e., housing, in-state, out-of-state, and program of study)
- All available military benefits, including:
- Post-9/11 Tuition & Fees Award
- Yellow Ribbon Program
- Post-9/11 Housing Allowance
- Post-9/11 Books & Supplies Stipend
- Chapter 30 Montgomery GI Bill
- Chapter 1606 Montgomery GI Bill
- Chapter 35 Dependents Education Assistance
- Chapter 31 Vocational Rehab
- Active duty military tuition assistance programs
- My CAA spousal benefits
- Calculations for families eligible for Transfer of Educational Benefits
Up Next in Our Series: Give Your NPC a Voice
NPCs should go beyond figures, too, to provide messaging that complements your marketing. “If you’re talking cost, talk benefits,” Alexander advises. “If you’re talking expense, talk outcomes. And if you are talking loans, talk return on investment.
“Nobody said an NPC has to be boring.”
In the next blog in this series, our NPC experts explain how yours can become an even more powerful recruitment tool with the right kind of messaging. Spoiler alert: Does your institution’s NPC simply end with ‘Click Here to Close?’