College Scorecard offers online comparison of net costs

    Many parents spend years, even decades, saving money to send their kids to college. The cost of getting a degree is on the minds of the Obama Administration as well, which released a new online shopping tool last week. 

    The College Scorecard shows the typical cost to attend Drexel University — that is the average net price for undergraduate students — is close to $35,000 per year.  The net price is what undergraduate students pay after grants and scholarships are subtracted from tuition and other fees. 

    For students at the University of Pennsylvania, which has more expensive tuition, the typical net cost is just shy of $21,000 per year.

    Dr. Laura Perna, a professor at Penn’s graduate school of education, says the scorecard provides information about factors that are important to consider in the college enrollment decision. 

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    “The information about tuition and borrowing — things like that,” she said.

    Perna said there are limitations, though. For example, “the scorecard provides only averages and it considers issues in isolation,” she said. “It’s not clear to me how a student would interpret the monthly loan repayment amount that’s shown on the website without knowing more about the likelihood of employment and average salaries.”

    Comparing Drexel and Penn shows some of the system’s shortcomings.  Drexel emphasizes work co-ops for its students during which they can earn money to offset tuition.

    Perna said the scorecard provides some information that could be useful, but she says it paints an incomplete picture.

    “This could potentially serve as one part of the puzzle for students and their families.  It would not be at the top of my list of a place to start with,” she said.

    Perna said she wonders specifically how useful the site is for low-income students because it only shows averages, and they might qualify for more generous financial aid packages.

    She said, ideally, high schools could help guide students through the complex maze of financial aid, but she knows that’s not the case universally. 

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