Students get smart about college ROI

Total ROI is important for students, who often struggle with college financial aid

Financial concerns are consistently identified as a top roadblock to higher education, and for good reason—securing scholarships and financial aid, along with carrying burdensome student loans, can overwhelm students before they even earn a degree.

Research shows that almost 3 million students drop out of school each year due to financial constraints. It also reveals that more than half of institutions don’t have, or are unaware of what they use for, automated scholarship management.

Most K-12 district leaders say it’s important to create a college-going culture, but they also cite concerns about paying for college prevent many of their students from applying in the first place. Students say another top barrier is difficultly matching potential careers to their interests, which is something reports about overall ROI, including career outlook, can address.

Students are increasingly concerned about their ROI, or their return on education, once they earn a degree—and a handful of new tools can help them get a better idea of the financial reality attached to higher education.

Simple student loan calculators can help students get a better idea of what a loan will cost them over its full lifetime.

Reports on college ROI and affordability also give students a starting point. PayScale’s annual College ROI Report highlights “best value” colleges based on total 4-year cost, 20-year net ROI, graduation rates, typical years to graduate, and average loan amounts.

College Abacus helps students compare the net cost estimates of more than $5,000 institutions before they apply and before any financial aid is awarded. Colleges participating in federal financial aid programs are required to offer online calculators that give students an idea of the school’s net cost, and the net costs displayed on College Abacus use the same formula as calculators located on individual college sites.

A tool from online data site Edmit helps high school students see what financial aid package students like them received from colleges. The tool is intended to help students compare their return on investment from U.S. institutions, according to Edmit co-founders Nick Ducoff, a former vice president at Northeastern University, and Sabrina Manvilla, a former Southern New Hampshire University executive.

“Families shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to figure out which college will be the smartest investment for them in the long run,” says Manville.

Students receive a personalized “value score” that combines their estimated tuition cost with post-graduation earnings, which are adjusted based on anticipated major. The score also includes likely financial aid and students’ academic strengths.

“Too often, graduates are left underemployed and with unsustainable student debt. Return on investment matters—but it’s almost impossible for families to compare today’s costs to earnings after graduation in a way that is personalized to their student’s situation,” says Ducoff. “We’re translating the data into tools people can easily use to compare schools, and make smarter decisions about where to send their children—and money.”

The tool was first implemented at the University of Arizona (UA) campus, and more than 70 percent of students have used ScholarshipUniverse.

“Our students reported that they had trouble finding relevant scholarships and navigating the process,” says Rebekah Salcedo, director of scholarships and financial aid at the University of Arizona. “We simplified the scholarship process, streamlining access to over $6 million of external funding to UA students in one year.”

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Laura Ascione

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