Controversy Erupts Over Site to Compare College Costs

CollegeAbacus, an online app launched in October, helps parents and students compare college costs all in one place. This one stop shopping site uses each college’s personalized net price calculations and allows users to compare up to 3 schools at once for free (with unlimited usage). 

College-Abacus-1The net price calculation is what a college will cost after subtracting scholarships and grants from your cost of attendance. The government now requires schools to include net price calculators on their websites, but they are not always easy to find. So having one website, that allows you to enter a list of interested schools and get personalized net price calculations to compare costs would seem like a wonder thing – at least for parents and students, but maybe not so much for schools.  read more…

Controversy erupted when Student Aid Services, a company that manages net price calculators for over 700 colleges, began preventing College Abacus from accessing the college calculators. In a letter sent to its clients on Oct. 28, Student Aid Services warned that College Abacus may be providing inaccurate information and charging students for information that colleges provide for free. Cornell and Fordham University are the only schools that have asked Student Aid Services to restrict College Abacus from their net price calculators.

According to Abigail Seldin, College Abacus founder, “College is the largest expenditure most people make in their lives. They should know what it costs before they commit themselves to a particular institution”. But some schools feel their educational offerings can’t be compared on cost alone and may lead students to make poor decisions. Bill Carroll, a senior lecturer in the Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration commented “If you are a highly differentiated entity, like an Ivy League college, it is certainly a lot harder to make the comparison of what the value of that education experience is as compared to a junior college.  When you’re making comparisons, it’s not just price. … It’s what the value is.” 

So what’s the real concern? Accurate net price calculations offered through College Abacus or the fear of colleges that parents and student now have the opportunity to compare college costs easily, putting pressure on schools to justify these numbers with meaningful value?

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