College Navigator: Checking a College's Generosity

There are many websites that you can research the financial aid practices of individual schools. Today I’m going to focus on an especially helpful site — the federal College Navigator.

The College Navigator is not flashy, but it contains incredible tools that tap into the US Department of Education’s vast college database.

The College Navigator provides information on individual schools in the following 12 categories:

  1. General information
  2. Tuition, fees and estimated student expenses
  3. Financial aid
  4. Net price
  5. Enrollment
  6. Admissions
  7. Retention and graduation rate
  8. Programs/majors
  9. Varsity athletic teams
  10. Accreditation
  11. Campus security
  12. Cohort default rates

Today I’m focusing on just one category — the net price. When considering whether a school will be affordable, I like to look at its net price statistics. This is where you can find out what families of various incomes typically pay for one year of college at a particular school.

The net price feature takes into account the typical grants and other assistance that students at a particular school obtain. The net price is far more important a figure than the sticker price, which is usually meaningless.

To illustrate how the net price feature works on College Navigator, I’m using Penn State, which is one of the nation’s largest flagship universities, and Gettysburg College, a private liberal arts college that’s also in Pennsylvania.

Penn State Average Net Price

Family Income                                                               Average Net Price

  • $0 – $30,000                                                             $14,460
  • $30,001 – $48,000                                                   $16,971
  • $48,001 – $75,000                                                   $21,409
  • $75,001 – $110,000                                                  $24,827
  • $110,001 and higher                                                $25,849

Gettysburg College Average Net Price:

Family Income                                                              Average Net Price

  • $0 – $30,000                                                             $9,395
  • $30,001 – $48,000                                                   $10,137
  • $48,001 – $75,000                                                   $17,053
  • $75,001 – $110,000                                                  $22,566
  • $110,001 and higher                                                $29,877

Looking at the net price of schools via the College Navigator is a great way to dispel misconceptions about the costs of individual institutions.  For accepted low-income applicants, for instance, Gettysburg is cheaper. Gettysburg is one of the rare schools that can meet 100% of each of its student’s demonstrated financial need. Public institutions like Penn State just don’t have the financial resources to be as generous to low-income students.

(Hot off the press, here is the list of all the schools that say they meet 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need: Which Colleges Claim to Meet Students’ Full Financial Need?)

On the other hand, Penn State will be a slightly less expensive alternative for wealthy students. Of course, price is hardly the only factor when choosing schools, but it’s good to obtain an idea in advance of looming costs.

Net Price Calculator

Later this year every college and university will have to install a net price calculator on their web sites that will be designed to provide individual families with a good idea of how much institutions on their lists will cost them. I think these net price calculators will be revolutionary and should make college costs transparent. Here is a story that I wrote about net price calculator last year:

New College Cost Calculators What You Need to Know

You’ll find plenty of more great statistics on the College Navigator and I’d urge you to explore the site.

Read more:

Using the College Board to Research Schools

6 Ways to Pick College Classes

Combining Liberal Arts With a Business College Degree

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of a workBook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree. She also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.


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