Simple And Smart NPC

KISS Your NPC: How to Keep It Simple—and Smart

By Marc Alexander, Customer Success Manager

From successful FAFSA-simplification initiatives, to the proposed ‘One Grant, One Loan,’ higher education has paid great attention to simplifying the financial aid process. “But debate continues when it comes to striking the right balance between simplification that benefits students and institutions simultaneously—versus over-simplification that might shift the burden to institutions further down the process,” says CampusLogic Customer Success Manager Marc Alexander. With 15 years of experience in higher education, he’s recently seen the FinAid simplification debate move to net price calculators (NPC).

Complicated Questions Create Barriers to Enrollment
When the federal NPC requirement went into effect in 2011, schools wanted their calculators to be as accurate as possible, Alexander explains. So, they required students to complete a long and detailed survey that mirrored the FAFSA.

“The belief was that if it wasn’t truly accurate, the NPC could put an institution at a competitive disadvantage or misrepresent true cost,” he notes. But, while all those FAFSA-type questions added significant transparency to the college-search process, lengthy NPCs have unintentionally created even greater obstacles for students to complete them. Many simply give up.

Simplification Focuses on Accessibility
Now, as NPC use has become ingrained in the college-search process, schools are increasingly loosening their focus on 100% accuracy—and the pendulum has swung toward accessibility. Shorter calculators, like that at Wellesley College, are attempting to offer a glimpse into available aid and the cost of attendance—without scaring away inexperienced college-shoppers.

“Just like the debate about shortening the FAFSA,” Alexander points out, “it’s still not clear whether having a simplified five- to seven-question NPC lowers barriers enough to justify potentially inaccurate results—or additional challenges when a student receives an award letter that reflects a far different aid package.”

He adds, “Just like simplification of the FAFSA has not always meant asking fewer questions, simplification of the NPC shouldn’t be just a question-reduction exercise. The CampusLogic ClearCost net price calculator, for instance, offers flexibility and allows schools to find a happy medium.”

Ask Yourself: Is Your NPC Simple and Smart?
Alexander recommends asking these important questions when attempting to simplify your NPC:
  • What is the current completion rate?
    • Does it vary significantly on mobile devices vs. PCs?
    • Do onboard analytics show you when users abandon the process?
  • Is your calculator “smart” enough to take advantage of skip-logic that asks questions based on previous answers—to help students move through the process faster?
    • Even a box for “known Estimated Family Contribution,” for students who have completed the FAFSA, can save time and students.
  • Can your NPC provide estimates to populations beyond just the mandated first-time, full-time undergraduate population?
    • Students and parents need to plan, financially, for the entire college experience; not just one year at a time.

“As these shorter calculators gain traction, there’s some concern” about if they’re actually compliant with Department of Education regulations, Alexander cautions. On its website, Wellesley, for instance offers both its short-form calculator, called “MyinTuition,” and a more robust calculator that’s identified as its official net price calculator. Wittenberg, on the other hand, offers users both short-form or long-form options on a single page and clearly explains the difference between the two.

It’s important to understand your students’ college-search process, Alexander concludes: “If a student’s decision is influenced by the use of your NPC—and feedback from schools indicates it is—can you really afford to provide a tool that provides inaccurate estimates or a poor user experience?”

When it comes to NPCs, the answer is to follow the KISS philosophy: “Keep It Simple, Smart.”

Read our best-practices series on net price calculators >