Colleges Weigh How to Estimate Cost to Families

Campuses struggle to balance simplicity and accuracy in net-price calculators

Student-Aid Offices Weigh How to Estimate What Families Pay 2

Dan Koeck for The Chronicle

Dave Hjalmquist has spent hours looking at Carleton's financial-aid information. Were it not for the college's online calculator, he says, he would not have let his son, Tyler, consider the college. Tyler and David Hjalmquist estimate the cost of Carleton, using its online calculator. The elder Mr. Hjalmquist says he "would never have looked at Carleton without them telling me about this calculator."

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close Student-Aid Offices Weigh How to Estimate What Families Pay 2

Dan Koeck for The Chronicle

Dave Hjalmquist has spent hours looking at Carleton's financial-aid information. Were it not for the college's online calculator, he says, he would not have let his son, Tyler, consider the college. Tyler and David Hjalmquist estimate the cost of Carleton, using its online calculator. The elder Mr. Hjalmquist says he "would never have looked at Carleton without them telling me about this calculator."

A college degree is a big purchase. It is also a mysterious one. In many cases, families don't know the bottom-line price they will pay at a particular college until the financial-aid award letter arrives, often mere weeks before their son or daughter must make a decision about where to enroll. Even then, deciphering the letter to determine out-of-pocket costs can be tricky.

A new federal rule is supposed to change that. It will require colleges to post net-price calculators on their