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Most—But Not All—Colleges Roll Out Net-Price Calculators

Despite a new federal requirement that colleges have a "net price calculator" on their websites, 272 institutions have yet to comply, and some calculators are hard to find.

The assessment is provided by NetPriceCalculator.info, a new McLean, Va.-based company that tracks compliance with the mandate in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 that went into effect on Oct. 29, 2011. Its website has a searchable database to link students to individual school calculators.

Any postsecondary institution that participates in Title IV federal student-aid programs and enrolls full-time, first-time degree- or certificate-seeking undergraduate students must post a net-price calculator on its website. It's a tool to help to provide prospective students with a realistic estimate of the net price of attending based on a student's individual circumstances.

NetPriceCalculator.info reviewed 6,000 college and university websites and found 95 percent of institutions have a net-price calculator on their sites, but quality, usability, and accuracy vary. Eventually, the new website will post ratings on calculators for compliance with the federal guideline.

Of the 272 schools missing a calculator, NetPriceCalculator.info reports that 158, or 58 percent, are nontraditional, certificate program, or skill-training colleges, many of them beauty or cosmetology schools. Others without a calculator include the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, Southwest Virginia Community College, and Troy University in Alabama.

In the fall, the Institute for College Access and Success also raised concerns about the quality of net-price calculators. Last month, researchers at the American Enterprise Institute recommended changes to improve the calculator's usefulness.

To raise awareness of the resource, the U.S. Department of Education recently launched a contest challenging students to make short videos to inform families about the availability of net-price calculators.

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