Daily Ticker

Use a Calculator to Choose a College That’s a Financial Fit

Daily Ticker

A growing number of states are increasing funding for state colleges and universities after years of budget cuts. Last year 32 states increased funding for higher education institutions--–-almost twice the number of the year before—but levels still aren’t back to what they were in 2008, The Wall Street Journal reported

The average annual sticker price for tuition, fees, room and board at a four-year public college or university for the upcoming 2013 semester is $18,000 for state residents and $31,000 for out-of-state residents, according to the College Board. The sticker price for private non-profit colleges and university: $39,500.

Related: Yes, Despite the Student Loan Crisis, College IS Worth It

Multiply those figures by at least four and you’ll see that college costs can often run into the six figures. To get a better idea about what a particular college will cost, Jeff Selingo, editor at large of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and author of College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students, advises students and their parents to check out the net price calculator that all institutions are now required to include on their web sites.

In the Daily Ticker’s Generation I.O.U. special, Selingo explained that the net price calculator takes into account not only a school’s cost but the finances of a student and his or her family to gauge their estimated family contribution. The result is a ballpark net price defined as the total cost of school-- tuition, room and board, and other expenses) minus the amount of need-based aid that student will likely receive--but note that the calculation may not include scholarships or merit aid.

Related: America's Student Loan Crisis: Generation I.O.U.

Lisa Staiano-Coico, president of the City College of New York (CCNY), who also participated in our Generation I.O.U. special, says students and parents should focus not only on the emotional fit of a particular college or university but also on the costs. “College has to be a financial fit as well,” says Coico.

But the financial fit that many students have chosen is one that depends largely on student loans to fund a college education. More than 38 million Americans owe a total $1.1 trillion in student loan debt, which tops the total in credit card debt.

Related: College Debt isn't a Bubble About to Burst--It's Something Different

The interest rate on subsidized federal student loans is due to double as of July 1 to 6.8%. There are several proposals in Congress to limit the increase. The Republican-controlled House passed a bill last week that would tie the student loan rate to the 10-year treasury yield (now near 2%) plus 2.5%, for a total 4.5%, but the rate could rise in the future since it's variable. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it passes the Senate.

Also in the House, Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Joe Courtney (D-CT) introduced a bill that would keep the rate unchanged at 3.4% and allow debt forgiveness up to $45,000 after eligible borrowers have made 10 years of payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income

In the Senate are several Democratic plans to extend the current 3.4% rate for two years. In addition, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the junior senator from Massachusetts, has introduced a bill to charge students the same 0;75% rate that the Fed charges banks borrowing from the discount window, and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has a bill to allow those with student loan rates above 4% to refinance at a maximum 4% rate.

But none of these bills will go anywhere if Democrats and Republicans don’t agree to a compromise fix, and if recent history is any guide, that’s not likely.

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