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Looking at the competition: A comparison of Net Price Calculators from student’s view. #admissions #emchat #highered #financialaid

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Since the federally mandated introduction of the net price calculator (NPC) in October of 2011, I’ve been curious to know what kinds of results students would get if they completed our calculator and those from some of our competitors.

I’ve been curious to know if the NPC results in a clearer “apples to apples” comparison of cost.

I’ve been curious to see how other colleges present information to students.

I’ve been curious to better understand the impressions about affordability and value with which a student might be left after completing ours and a competitor’s.

I’ve been curious to know how we stack up against flagship universities and other private colleges.

Lots of curiosity on my part, but no action…until now.

Over the recent holiday break, I asked one of our student ambassadors, assisted by the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, to undertake a project to complete our net price calculator and NPCs from some of our top competitors. To initiate the project, I developed an archetype academic profile and worked with the Office of Financial Assistance to develop four different financial backgrounds to use in our experiment (these profiles are listed below). After developing the profiles for our students, we developed a list of competitor schools based on data from the National Clearinghouse and those schools with which we overlap most frequently.

My initial list included 10 colleges (Bradley University, DePaul University, Elmhurst College, University of Iowa, Illinois Wesleyan University, Loyola University, Marquette University, North Central College, Northern Illinois University, and University of Illinois–Champaign-Urbana). When I asked my colleagues in Institutional Research and Assessment to look at my initial findings, they thought it would be good to add Gustavus Adolphus College (peer), Loras College (regional competition), Luther College (peer), Monmouth College (regional competition) and Northwestern University (competition for highest-achieving students).

 

Academic Profile

ACT: 25; Class Rank: top 20%;

and, G.P.A. 3.2

Student 1: $75,000 household income, family of 3, 1 in college, assets $5,000

Parents’ marital status: Married

State of residence: CO

Family size: 3

Number in college: 1

Parents’ income: $69,662

Parents’ income taxes paid: $4,376

Parent 1 income earned: $56,800

Parent 2 does not work

Parents’ untaxed income: $5,000

Parents’ assets: $5,000

Student income: $2,850

Student income taxes paid: $0

Student untaxed income: $0

Student assets: 160

 

Student 2: $120,000 household income, family of 4, 1 in college, assets $10,000

Parents’ marital status: Married

State of Residence: IL

Family size: 4

Number in college: 1 

Parents’ income: $108,084

Parents’ income taxes paid: $10,041

Parent 1 income earned: $89,792

Parent 2 income earned: $7,154

Parents’ untaxed income: $9,855

Parents’ assets: $10,000

Student income: 1,340

Student income taxes paid: $0

Student untaxed income: $0

Student assets: $2,300

 

Student 3: $200,000 household income, family of 5, 2 in college, assets $20,000

Parents’ marital status: Married

State of Residence: IL

Family size: 5

Number in college: 2 

Parents’ income: $179,670

Parents’ income taxes paid: $23,676

Parent 1 income earned: $175,480

Parent 2 does not work

Parents’ untaxed income: $17,000

Parents’ assets: $20,000

Student income: $3,000

Student income taxes paid: $0

Student untaxed income: $0

Student assets: $8,000

 

Student 4: $45,000 household income, family of 4, 1 in college, assets $0

Parents’ marital status: Divorced/Single

State of Residence: IL

Family size: 4

Number in college: 1 

Parents’ income: $46,230

Parents’ income taxes paid: $183

Parents’ income earned: $47,900

Parents’ untaxed income: $0

Parents’ assets: $0

Student income: $1,000

Student income taxes paid: $0

Student untaxed income: $0

Student assets: $200 

* We also made the oldest parent 55, since it was a question asked by a couple of institutions.

 

So, what did we find?

Before I get to the results, and try to make some sense of it all, I thought the following observations might be of interest.

It will cost you nothing to attend: A couple of the college’s NPCs include the Parent PLUS loan in calculating the out-of-pocket cost for students. This is an interesting technique. The “estimated net price” is clearly outlined, but when the PLUS loan is included under the guise of “eligibility for other aid programs” it can make the out-of-pocket cost appear to be $0.

Indirect costs are wildly different: Indirect costs, which include things like books, personal expenses, and transportation, are considered in calculating the amount of financial need a family has, and therefore indirect costs have a direct relationship to demonstrated financial need. What I found surprising is the dramatic range in indirect costs, which varied on the high end from $4,600 (regional public) to the low end of $2,400 (private, national liberal arts college). The wild variation seemed odd to me.

Work Study is applied inconsistently and amounts vary: The amount of Work Study availability varied from $1,200 to $2,500 for the same student with the same need levels. Furthermore, there were a number of NPCs that include Work Study as a resource used to reduce the cost to attend. This is an interesting technique because it, of course, lowers the cost to attend. But, Work Study earnings are seldom used to pay a student’s bill.

Some colleges offer very broad ranges: A small number of colleges offer ranges of need-based grants, rather than a specific level of grant support. I certainly understand this from an enrollment management perspective (you don’t want to promise something you can’t deliver), but the practice makes the NPCs almost useless, given the range offered can vary from $2,000 to $8,000.

The results are damn confusing: NPCs are anything but clear in presentation and results. In fact, they are terribly confusing even for someone who knows his way around this stuff. One college’s results were so crazy that we sent an anonymous email seeking clarification. The response we received directed us to yet a different calculator housed on the business office’s website. A further complication is that there is no easy way to find NPCs on most college websites—some are hidden deep within the structure and others are right up front. We ended up Googling Net Price Calculator + (college name) to make it easy. I hope that’s what families are doing.

If you’ve made it this far, you may want to know what we found out about Augustana and whether there are any general tends to which I can point?

With the help of the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, and in an effort to try to compare apples to apples, rather than apples to basketballs, we “standardized” the results to determine net cost by looking at direct cost minus estimated grant aid and the Federal Stafford Loan. We left out PLUS, Work Study in order to try to assess how we stack up. Here’s what we found.

 

In short, here’s what was discovered:

 

 

Direct Cost

Student 1

Net Price

Student 2

Net Price

Student 3

Net Price

Student 4

Net Price

Mean

43,246

22,249

27,048

27,552

16,471

Median

43,161

20,784

25,944

27,119

15,060

Augustana

44,938

19, 338

24,638

24,638

13,438

Augie Difference from Median

1,777

-1,446

-1,306

-2,481

-1,622

 

Of the 16 schools we considered, Augustana’s direct cost is $1,692 above the mean and $1,777

above the median. However, after considering the scholarships and grants and $5,500 in

Stafford loans, Augustana is below both the mean and the median for each of the four students. 

Augie is more than $5,000 less than five other schools on the list for each student profile. 

The move from direct cost to net price is about a $3,500 jump for Augie.

 

 
 
 
 

Now I don’t know exactly what this means. My initial thought was; hey, that looks pretty good for us. I mean, our price is more than the mean, but our cost is less. And, in most cases, if we less expensive or perceived as a better value, I am perfectly comfortable making the case for the cost differential. However, I suspect the results are more nuanced.

Are we offering too much financial aid? Are we a better value? Do we make a more substantial investment in students?

I need to look deeper at all of these questions, but in the meantime, if you want to know how Augustana stacks up against these colleges for our archetype students, you will find the results below.

 

School

Student 1 – 75k CO

Student 1

Difference from Augie

Student 1

Augustana

19,338

24,838

 

Bradley

18,514

24,014

-824

DePaul#

30,392

35,892

11,054

Elmhurst

20,300

25,800

962

Gustavus Adolphus

20,885

26,385

1,547

Iowa

34,061

39,561

14,723

IWU

21,702

27,202

2,364

Loras

20,682

26,182

1,344

Loyola

29,130

34,630

9,792

Luther

21,847

27,347

2,509

Marquette

28,198

33,698

8,860

Monmouth

16,529

22,029

-2,809

NCC

15,869

21,369

-3,469

NIU

3,226

8,726

-16,112

Northwestern*

16,213

21,713

-3,125

U of I

39,105

44,605

19,767

 

School

Student 2 – 120k IL

Student 2

Difference from Augie Student 2

Augustana

24,638

30,138

 

Bradley

29,714

35,214

5,076

DePaul#

36,392

41,892

11,754

Elmhurst

23,900

29,400

-738

Gustavus Adolphus

28,894

34,394

4,256

Iowa

34,061

39,561

9,423

IWU

24,152

29,652

-486

Loras

24,132

29,632

-506

Loyola

31,250

36,750

6,612

Luther

25,695

31,195

1,057

Marquette

30,018

35,518

5,380

Monmouth

22,550

28,050

-2,088

NCC

21,069

26,569

-3,569

NIU

21,092

26,592

-3,546

Northwestern*

26,193

31,693

1,555

U of I

29,014

34,514

4,376

 

School

Student 3 – 200k IL

Student 3

Difference from Augie Student 3

Augustana

24,638

30,138

 

Bradley

24,514

30,014

-124

DePaul#

36,692

42,192

12,054

Elmhurst

25,600

31,100

962

Gustavus Adolphus

30,679

36,179

6,041

Iowa

34,601

40,101

9,963

IWU

29,102

34,602

4,464

Loras

24,882

30,382

244

Loyola

31,250

36,750

6,612

Luther

25,695

31,195

1,057

Marquette

31,018

36,518

6,380

Monmouth

22,550

28,050

-2,088

NCC

22,969

28,469

-1,669

NIU

19,092

24,592

-5,546

Northwestern*

28,543

34,043

3,905

U of I

29,014

34,514

4,376

 

School

Student 4  – 45k IL

Student 4

Difference from Augie Student 4

Augustana

13,438

18,938

 

Bradley

17,014

22,514

3,576

DePaul#

25,461

30,961

12,023

Elmhurst

9,510

15,010

-3,928

Gustavus Adolphus

13,648

19,148

210

Iowa

30,066

35,566

16,628

IWU

16,657

22,157

3,219

Loras

19,882

25,382

6,444

Loyola

23,235

28,735

9,797

Luther

15,167

20,667

1,729

Marquette

22,823

28,323

9,385

Monmouth

8,735

14,235

-4,703

NCC

13,854

19,354

416

NIU

14,953

20,453

1,515

Northwestern*

4,548

10,048

-8,890

U of I

14,538

20,038

1,100

 

 

*Archetype student unlikely to be admitted. This may be the case for other colleges in the comparison group, too.

#An average of the grant range provided by the NPC was used to come up with a grant value.

I am not sure that any of the results are earth-shattering, but they are interesting.

What do you think about all of this? Are you aware of other efforts to compare NPCs results?

If you are an enrollment professional, you might try this out on your own to see what a family might see at your institution and at your competition.

W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission

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