What is it about?

This study uses web sphere analysis to examine the usability and usefulness of information that selected four-year colleges and universities are providing about the costs of attendance via their net price calculators and cost-related websites. Using compliance with current and proposed federal requirements for net price calculators as a starting point, we draw on prior research to identify and explore indicators of the cost-related information that prospective students need, and the extent to which the 80 sampled institutions are providing it. The analyses show that some colleges and universities are not only failing to comply with federal mandates concerning net price calculators but also ignoring their ethical responsibility, as noted by the National Association of College Admission Counseling, “to provide complete, factual, and readily accessible information that will allow students and their counselors to make informed college comparisons and choices.”

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Why is it important?

Prospective students need accurate, complete, and individualized information about their expected costs to determine the institutions to which to apply, and to appropriately plan for how to pay the costs. Having this information early in the college-going process—without having to complete the FAFSA—is especially important to low-income students, first-generation college students, and individuals who do not have ready access to college and financial aid counselors.


The misleading and confusing practices we identified in this study have important implications for students: Students who underestimate costs may drop out of college for financial reasons before attaining a degree, while students who overestimate costs may not apply to schools they can actually afford.

Laura Perna
University of Pennsylvania

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Money Matters: Understanding How Colleges and Universities Use Their Websites to Communicate Information About How to Pay College Costs, Educational Policy, August 2019, SAGE Publications,
DOI: 10.1177/0895904819867398.
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