How To Communicate College Value And Affordability

How to Evolve Your NPC: Communicate Value and Affordability Up Front

How is your net price calculator (NPC) communicating to prospective college students?

“Hopefully, students are left with more than simply ‘Click Here to Close,’” says Jesse Rojas, Customer Success Manager at CampusLogic. “Students today need to know much more than just the cost of attendance. They need to know about the return on investment your school would bring to their lives.”

Throughout his decade in higher education, he’s seen the proliferation of online NPCs since they were federally mandated in 2011—and has watched their evolution from basic calculator to enrollment driver in recent years. In this fourth post of our series, Rojas shares what happens when institutions use net price calculators strategically. Outcomes include better student engagement, more informed students and families, enhanced financial literacy, and improved “stickiness” from college search through enrollment.

“Families are deeply concerned about the value of a college degree today,” Rojas says. “And that makes starting the conversation earlier a much more important part of recruitment.” The NPC, he points out, is often students’ first in-depth look at an institution. They engage with the calculator for at least five minutes, answering personal income and academic questions—and therefore should be considered “warm leads” who are receptive to further communications and conversations.

How to Communicate What Students Need to Hear

“If you’re talking cost, talk benefits,” Rojas advises. “And do it right there, on the pages of your net price calculator.” Giving your NPC a voice doesn’t mean simply posting famous alumni, Rhodes Scholars, and the student-to-faculty ratio on your website, he continues, “Connect the dots: Show how the campus experience enabled that alum to excel as a student; how it gave them confidence to go for the Rhodes Scholarship or to win a Nobel Prize.”

Understandably, it’s hard for most students to see themselves as Nobel Laureates when they can’t get past the price tag. They’re often just told that college is affordable because of a wide range of aid and assistance. But the colleges that come out ahead, says Rojas, communicate what students want to know most: ‘Will we be getting our money’s worth?’

He points to Spring Hill College and West Virginia Wesleyan as two institutions that have had great success with expressing key value statements within the pages of their NPCs.

Include Essential Financial Literacy Communications

Effective, recruitment-centric NPCs also educate students about financial aid options, along with key information about costs, subsidized and unsubsidized loans, what a Plus loan is, and what to do next.

“For many students, the NPC serves as an important first step toward financial literacy,” Rojas explains. He also notes that, with so many first-generation students and parents accessing your NPC, it’s best to add visual data—like bar graphs, pie charts, and other easy-to-understand illustrations that show costs, awards, and out-of-pocket expenses.

NPCs Help Start the Conversation Sooner

Beyond students initiating their own college searches and using net price calculators for deeper understanding, high school counselors and college recruiters count on these tools to start conversations about the value and affordability of higher education. And they’re doing so much sooner.

With ‘early FAFSA’ the new norm today, students and families are making financial and admission decisions earlier than ever. So, waiting to have the cost and return-on-investment (ROI) conversation as late as a high school senior’s campus visit could be too late. That messaging needs to start the moment students hit your NPC, says Rojas.

“There’s been a seismic shift in the recruitment cycle,” he notes. “The discussion of cost, affordability, value, and return on investment has to be moved further up in your communications plan.

“That means it’s important that your admissions and financial aid teams are comfortable talking about cost, too. Encourage them to be direct; be proud. And, above all, be prepared.”

Add Communications That Guide Students Toward Enrollment

Finally, Rojas suggests, instead of telling students to simply close the NPC when they retrieve their net price calculation, help move them further along their college-search journey. “More and more schools offer next-steps beyond the simple cut-and-dried cost of attendance,” he says. “Consider adding a link to the virtual campus tour that’s already on your website.”

Or, he adds, include a ‘Schedule a Visit’ form—something that’s not only is a great next-step, but a convenient way for your team to capture leads and keep in touch with those prospective students. Better yet, close the loop by adding a link for students to apply to your institution. Fordham University, Rojas says, has had overwhelming success at this.

Up Next in Our Series: Going Above and Beyond

We’re taking a deeper dive into a range of best practices and valuable suggestions you might not have previously considered trying with an NPC. In our next article, we offer tips for staying in touch with students who’ve shown an interest in your school.

Spoiler alert: Does your NPC play well with your CRM?

Read the Series >

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