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The net price calculator is available for prospective students on Penn's Student Registration and Financial Services website.

Credit: Mona Lee

The Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy at Penn's Graduate School of Education recently conducted a study which found that many universities are providing misleading or incomplete information on their websites about their cost of attendance.

The research brief, released in March, found that many universities are not complying with regulations that require them to make net price calculators easily accessible on their websites. Net price calculators, which allow students to estimate the cost of attending a particular school based on their individual circumstances, are seen as an important tool for students who are concerned about paying for college. 

The 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act requires all postsecondary institutions to maintain net price calculators on their websites. 

The study looked at 80 competitive four-year colleges and universities, including private and public nonprofit institutions. The researchers selected schools where at least 25 percent of enrolled students received federal Pell Grants to help pay for college. 

The researchers found that 40 percent of schools studied used data that was three or four years old, and 8 percent did not state what year the used data portrays. Other schools did not differentiate clearly between loans and grants, and a couple schools did not have accessible links to net price calculators at all.  

The research was lead by GSE professor Laura Perna, who is chair of the school's Higher Education Division and Executive Director of the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy.

“Net price calculators are one of the few mechanisms available for the prospective students and their families to get some indication of what their own costs will be based on their personal circumstances,” Perna told Diverse: Issues In Higher Education. “It’s quite worrisome actually that these net price calculators aren’t working the way we’d like them to.”

Prospective Penn students can find the net price calculator on the Student Registration and Financial Services website under the “Prospective Undergraduates” tab. The calculator, according to Penn's website, is designed to give prospective students and their families an idea of how much and what types of financial aid they could qualify for if they were to attend the University.