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Julie Jason: Sort through the value of potential college choices

Published June 27, 2014 3:45 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you have a high school student in the family who is going to be borrowing money to pay for college, consider choosing the college that is a good value.

How can you get information about affordability and value?

The place to start is the College Scorecard, a free site run by the U.S. Department of Education that you can find at http://tinyurl.com/becjqgp.

The Scorecard was first made available online in early 2013.

The site has information about more than 4,000 colleges that you can research one by one. You also can download a file that contains all of the schools, which you can then sort based on name of the college, location, enrollment, "net price," student loan default rate and graduation rate.

When I downloaded the list, first I screened for four-year bachelor-degree colleges, which gave me about 2,000 institutions. I sorted based on net price, an exercise I highly recommend to parents of high-schoolers who are getting ready for college. (If you would like a copy of the list so that you can do your own sorts, email me at readers@juliejason.com.)

The net price is "what undergraduate students pay after grants and scholarships (financial aid you don't have to pay back) are subtracted from the institution's cost of attendance."

If you compare the net price with the "sticker price," you'll get an idea of how much grant and scholarship money is actually being applied to matriculating students. The Department of Education pulls data used to calculate average net price from IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System), which is the annual report institutions file with the Department of Education. For more information about IPEDS, go to http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/about.

Of the approximately 2,000 institutions in my search, the lowest net price was $1,323 per year (Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina). The highest was $66,743 per year (American University of Health Sciences in California).

More than one-half of the list of 2,000 cost under $20,000 a year, 241 were under $10,000, and 30 were under $5,000.

It may surprise some that Harvard's average net price is listed at only $14,445 per year. If you look up Harvard's College Scorecard, you'll see that the graduation rate is a strong 97 percent, and that its student loan default rate is a very modest 2.3 percent, compared with a national average of 14.7 percent. The default rate is the percentage of "borrowers who defaulted on their federal student loans within three years of entering repayment."

If you go back up the page to costs, you can click through to a "net price calculator" that will take you to Harvard's website. There you can see the sticker price — $62,250 a year — paid in full by some.

If you enter your personal financial information, you also can see the potential scholarship money that you could claim if you were accepted.

Another way to use College Scorecard is to search by degree and major, occupation, size of the student body, "awards offered" (certificate, associate's degree, bachelor's degree), as well as location (ZIP code, state, region) and campus setting (city, suburb/town, rural area).

If your goal is to prepare for the career of your choice, while not overpaying for your education, College Scorecard is worth your time.

Next week, let's talk about resources for choosing careers.

Julie Jason welcomes your questions/ comments (readers@juliejason.com).






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