Net price calculator to simplify college costs

Net price calculator to simplify college costs

Anya Zentmeyer

On Oct. 29, the federal government will begin enforcing a new mandate that require all colleges to post a new tool on their websites that will aid students in calculating their total yearly costs, both direct and indirect.

Called a net price calculator, the tool uses a short survey that asks about total number of family members in one household, household income and planned living accommodations, among other things, to generate a rough estimate of what a student can expect to pay at any given university.

Grand Valley State University junior Bri Babbit started her freshman year out at Michigan State University, and said she could have used a tool like that when making her final decisions about college.

“Perhaps I could have had a better idea what college was going to cost in the long-run,” she said.

According to Fannie Mae, the average household income in Michigan is between $50,000 and $60,000. So the net price calculator estimates an average student paying in-state tuition and living in an on campus facility is expected to shell out a total of $17, 609 for their first year, with only $1,871 of that total from merit and need-based grant aid.

Make that out-of-state, and the same student is paying $21,794 with $2,000 in grants. Move that out-of-state student off campus and the numbers top off at $22,977 with only $877 awarded in grant aid.

GVSU got its net price calculator up about a month ago, but Michelle Rhodes, director of Financial Aid, said the use is intended mostly for potential freshman, and even juniors and seniors in high school who might use it for a more ‘big picture’ look at college costs.

“I think it’s helpful if they’re considering an institution at Grand Valley versus an institution in California, and then you can see ‘this school in California will cost me $40,000 as opposed to Grand Valley costing $20,000,’” Rhodes said. “But as far as comparing Grand Valley to Michigan State or something close like that, it’s really not going to help you a year from now.”

With many parents and students suffering from what has been termed ‘sticker shock,’ Rhodes said GVSU’s net price calculator does not try to over inflate or under inflate, but the difficult thing about estimators is that they are not designed for total accuracy.

“They best time to get an actual picture is after you’ve actually gotten the bill and once we’ve actually gotten your financial aid award and from there you sit down with a financial aid advisor and work out what you really need to take,” she said.

Rhodes said when it comes down to total cost, GVSU has been upfront with how much students could expect to pay.

“This is just an estimator, so the key points for students and parents, no matter what level – incoming freshman to graduating senior – once you get your bill and evaluate your award, take the time to make sure you’re only taking what you need, especially when it comes to the loans.” Rhodes said. “And that’s not something a calculator or estimator is really going to help you with. That’s something you need to take the time to talk about. Make sure you know about loan limits and the loan eligibility you have left, those are things you definitely still need to talk to an adviser about and the net price calculator can’t replace that because financial aid is so confusing.”

To read more about financial aid, and to check out the net price calculator online, visit, click on future students, and under quick links select ‘net price calculator.’

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