Interactive Monday: You Better Know The Difference Between Net vs. Sticker Price For College (and so much more!)

Dec 02, 2018
Paying for College, Interactive, Research, Student Loans

Thanks to NGPF Fellow Amanda Volz for passing along this great resource called TuitionTracker.

It's easy for your students and their parents to pick up on the high cost of college. Headlines trumpet colleges that have now crossed the $70,000/year threshold. What is less understood is the fact that on average private colleges are now almost discounting tuition by 50%. Of course, 50% off a $40,000 sticker price is still $20,000/year which is challenging for most of your students. But I digress. The key point here is that 1) sticker and net price (out of pocket costs) can be wildly different AND 2) the data exists so you can project what the net cost for YOU will be based on your family income. You don't need to wait until the financial aid award letter arrives in March or April to have a pretty good idea on the cost of a given school.

What other information can you find out about colleges with this tool?

  • Published tuition and fees
  • Average net price (by income level)
  • Graduation rates (by race/ethnicity)
  • Retention rates (students coming back after their freshman year)
  • Financial aid (grants, including Pell, and federal loans)
  • Enrollment (by race/ethnicity and gender)

There are certainly other data sources that match what TuitionTracker provides but TuitionTracker has this info on over 4,000 schools (the tool from Planet Money that we have used has data on 1,500 schools), has a good user interface that makes analyzing the data easier, and shows trend data over the past 7-8 years.

Here's an example of information about a local college, San Jose State and some of the information that you will find:

  • Sticker and Net Price

Chart of Sticker vs. Net Price (by Income Level): highlighted is $0-$30,000:

Questions for students: Search fo one school that you are interested in and answer the following questions:

  • What is the college acceptance rate? (Hint: It's in the left hand margin)
  • In your own words, what is the difference between sticker price and net price?
  • Now let's look at the numbers: What is the sticker price? What is the net price for family income b/w $48,001 and $75,000? 
  • What is the term used for the difference if you subtract the net price from the sticker price?
  • What has been the trend with the sticker and net price? Has one been growing faster than the other over the past 7-8 years? 
  • Finish this statement, the lower your family income, the _______________ the net price at a given college. 


How Much Will Your College Actually Cost? 


About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.