The “net price calculator,” which allows students to gaze upon their future debt NOW, was mandated by the Higher Education thingamajig of 2008. The idea was to provide an estimate of the total cost of college to the student, figuring in available, need-based financial aid (the inclusion of other kinds of aid is up in the air). It is unclear to me whether the calculator includes library fees and 24 packs of Natty Light.
Colleges who consider their financial aid offerings competititve are seeing this as a way to show off. Those who don’t, are seeing this as a reason to be bummed. The marketing departments are especially excited, because they can use the price calculator as a way to gauge student interest, as well as to collective coveted market information (parent’s income! GPA! OMG!).
I, for one, think that this is a step in the right direction. Going to college is one of the most important decisions of someone’s life and it is often made with a very paltry amount of information; most of it heresay and “common sense” (Have you ever noticed how the size of the life decisoion and the information informing that decisoon vary inversely?). Every last droplet of added info will at least make people appreciate how byzantine college finances can be, and, hopefully, act accordongly.
I sincerely doubt that these price calculators will help bring down the price of tuition significantly, though. Only Chuck Norris can do that.