There is a fear that students might be scared away if the questions are too complex or numerous.

When the annual college search season gets under way this fall, parents and students will have a new tool at their disposal.

By the end of October, the nation’s colleges and universities will be offering net price calculators on their websites, providing an easier way to compare college costs from one school to the next. At least, that’s the goal of the federal law requiring the calculators.

Most higher-education experts like the idea behind the new rule, which should give students and families a better idea of college costs much earlier in the game. But they also see potential for problems with the fledgling rule.

Among the biggest issues is the balancing of simplicity versus accuracy.

The calculator works by collecting information through a series of on-screen questions about the student’s financial and academic background. The more questions it asks, the more accurate the results. But there is a fear that students might be scared away if the questions are too complex or numerous.

There also are concerns about using year-old financial information that doesn’t take tuition and other price increases into account—and the possibility that some schools could use net price calculators as misleading marketing tools.


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