Comparing the cost of attendance

A new online tool for prospective students helps to weigh college costs.

Ian Taylor

An online tool helps prospective University of Minnesota students get a better idea of college costs.

The net-price calculator is a part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act âÄìâÄì a nationwide initiative by the U.S. Department of Education to get all post-secondary institutions to offer an attendance cost estimate tool by Oct. 29. It is available through One Stop and was added this summer.

âÄúI think itâÄôs a good step forward to understand what the cost of school is,âÄù said Kris Wright, director of the UniversityâÄôs Office of Student Finance.

The calculator asks a series of questions about family income and then predicts expected family contributions âÄî what the family can expect to pay and how much will be covered by grants, work study and loans.

âÄú[ItâÄôs] a shortcut for FAFSA,âÄù Wright said in reference to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

But the calculator doesnâÄôt account for possible scholarships.

Because the University looks at studentsâÄô overall merits to award scholarships, while the calculator only accounts for financial information, Wright said the school decided not to include merit-based aid in the tool rather than mislead its users.

Wright said the calculator is meant for prospective college students who donâÄôt have experience estimating college costs.

âÄúItâÄôs a much better idea if [current students] use FAFSA,âÄù she said.

âÄúIf youâÄôre a [high school] sophomore, you canâÄôt because you wonâÄôt be going to school for a while, and [people] complain itâÄôs too long and too complex. The net price calculator has a simpler form than the FAFSA.âÄù

Carol Behning, a guidance counselor at Columbia Heights High School, said the calculator could help high school students looking to attend college, as they struggle with understanding how finances work.

âÄúAny information is going to be helpful,âÄù Behning said. âÄúThe more they have, the better,âÄù

She said what makes the tool even more useful for high schoolers is that itâÄôs digital.

âÄúAs tech-savvy as they are, this is something they can relate to,âÄù Behning said.

The HEOA mandated that the calculator estimate âÄúthe average yearly price actually charged to first-time, full-time undergraduate students receiving student aid at an institution of higher education,âÄù following a universal template provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Wright said the hope for the calculator is to encourage students and parents to look at âÄúa more realistic estimateâÄù of the price theyâÄôll pay.