February 12, 2016

U of L blocks access to College Abacus tuition calculator

financial aid

By Phillip Lentsch–

U of L blocks a tuition calculator website from using their net price information, denying potential and current students access for a reported three years.

College Abacus, a nonprofit college search site, acts as a net price calculator for families to access when looking at the affordability of university tuition. Users are able to compare tuition costs across multiple schools at once. The goal, according to co-founder Abigail Seldin, is to make the process of observing cost estimates easier and more transparent.

“Removing perceived cost barriers by providing better tools and information would likely increase demand for higher education, a development that would benefit not only students but colleges themselves,” said Seldin.

The site grabs information from individual school net price calculators to make the calculations and comparisons. About 5,000 schools nationwide agreed to participate in the College Abacus system, including the University of Kentucky.

U of L is one of four public institutions in the state blocking access to the site. The other three are Murray State University, Kentucky State University and Northern Kentucky University.

U of L’s Office of Financial Aid representatives said they are unaware of College Abacus’s existence, but have no comment on it being blocked. Seldin also tried contacting U of L several times over the past few years, including twice in fall 2015 to no response.

U of L does grant access to its own financial aid net price calculator. The entire point of the website, explained by Seldin, is to mimic the job of these net price calculators, while also generating an assessment of each student’s financial aid, merit-based aid and Pell grants. After calculations, the results are displayed in a simple format.

Beginning in 2011, schools accepting federal money were required to offer a net price calculator service on their websites.

The rationale behind blocking access to College Abacus is a perplexing matter, one that has made Seldin and her colleagues urge schools across the country to change their mind. One message Seldin received last year from a dean of financial aid presents a possible answer to why schools refuse to negotiate.

“We are experiencing record student demand, engage families early in financial aid discussions and are meeting our goals. Why you think I should open myself up to a purely financial comparison when we are so much more than that, I have no idea. It is probably because you have not sat where I sit. So, kindly cease communication with me,” wrote the dean, who remained anonymous in a New York Times article on the subject.

The issue at hand continues to be a troubling one for students at schools that block access, including U of L. Despite all of this, Seldin remains optimistic College Abacus will extend its reach.

“The easier we can make it for students to get beyond tuition sticker prices to understand their full range of college options, the easier we can make it for them to apply for and attend college,” said Seldin.

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