Cost calculator will go online next fall

The University will add a “net-price calculator” to its website by the fall of 2011 to comply with a new federal law aimed at helping families decipher the cost of attending college.

Colleges will be required to post the cost calculators on their websites, which will help students and their families average the cost that a full-time, first-year undergraduate student is charged after factoring in need-based and merit-based aid.

The calculators will factor in GW’s financial aid fund and project how much aid the school will offer a student based on his or her personal finances. Merit aid can also be estimated by entering test scores and GPA.

Associate Vice President for Student Financial Assistance Daniel Small said the new federal law is a good idea, but added he’s concerned the calculators will offer families a falsely high cost estimate for GW.

Calculators will account for grant money to reach the net price – not loans – Small said, and alert parents if their student is eligible for a federal Pell Grant. The government offers federal Pell Grants to low-income students.

Small said families might assume the net price is the exact cost of attending GW, when there are outside scholarships, loans and work-study programs to help finance a college education.

“Parents will look at this when the student is a sophomore or junior in high school,” Small said. “There are some people who feel as though decisions will be made by parents before the student even submits the application.”

The federal law calls for a disclaimer, which notes that the calculated price is an estimate that could change, which will supplement the calculator. A representative from the Department of Education did not return request for comment.

Small said the University is evaluating whether it will purchase a calculator template from a vendor, or use the calculator provided by the Department of Education.

Using a third-party vendor’s calculator would offer a more specific estimate of expected costs by asking additional questions, as the model provided by the Department of Education uses a broad formula to cater to universities nationwide, Small said.

The calculators vary in cost, from the free model provided by the Department of Education, to $25,000 models Small said.

Developing a customized GW calculator would cost the University up to $70,000.

“Part of the decision factor is, whichever one we go with, do we have the funding? The costs do vary from vendor to vendor,” Small said.

The University hopes to have a calculator posted by this summer, Small said, but it might take until the fall – when the law comes into effect – to find a calculator suitable for GW.

“I think that it’s another way of educating families and being more proactive and helping those families who have a concern about finances how to better plan,” Small said.

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