Knowing is half the battle

A bill would improve the accuracy of tuition estimates.

The “sticker price,” or the cost of tuition that colleges advertise, is rarely what students will end up paying. Often, it’s so off-target that it negatively affects students’ decisions about where to enroll.

Sens. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, seek to solve this issue with their new legislation, the Net Price Calculator Improvement Act of 2014.

The bill works to “give students and families a better estimate of college costs before they apply for schools,” and it helps “ensure that prospective students don’t fail to apply to certain schools that they think are too expensive,” according to a press release.

With assistance from the Department of Education, the act would develop a standardized calculator that would factor in a student’s financial and academic information to generate a list of net price estimates for multiple institutions of higher education.

Since 2011, the federal government has required colleges to post a net price calculator on their websites. But colleges will often bury their calculator deep in their websites, and as a result, many are overly complex and underutilized.

If Franken and Grassley’s bill passes, colleges would be able to keep the calculators they have, albeit with some changes. They’d have to be placed more prominently and meet certain formatting requirements.

Forcing schools to compete on tuition rates can bring improvements. We can take one step closer to more transparent competition with more accurate tuition estimates. Hopefully, lawmakers are on the same page.