Pell Abacus Simplifies College Cost Research for Low-Income Students

October 21, 2015
By Sarah Elkins, College Abacus/Glover Park Group

College Abacus, a free online tool that allows students and families to calculate and compare their individualized financial aid estimates across more than 5,000 U.S. colleges and universities, has announced the release of Pell Abacus, a secure search site designed to simplify and streamline the college search process for low-income students likely to be eligible for federal Pell Grants. College Abacus unveiled the tool at the National College Access Network's 2015 national conference in Orlando.

Recognizing that overly long and complex forms can discourage low-income students from following through with their college search, Pell Abacus simplifies the process for getting a financial aid estimate by asking just one financial question: "Are you eligible for free and reduced lunch?" For those answering yes, the tool is able to automatically skip the remaining financial questions and make a series of assumptions that, when paired with the necessary personal information, yield nearly equivalent results to those students would get by visiting individual college websites. Because many low-income students rely on mobile phones as their primary means of accessing the Internet, the tool was also designed to be mobile-friendly.

"By making this process simple to navigate without tax forms and accessible on mobile phones, we're removing some of the key barriers preventing low-income students from exploring their full range of college options," said Abigail Seldin, co-founder of College Abacus and vice president of innovation and product management at ECMC Group. "Our goal with Pell Abacus is to not only streamline the college search process for underserved students, but to empower them by providing meaningful context around the most important financial factors impacting college choice, from personalized net prices to school-specific loan repayment information."

Pell Abacus is the first new consumer tool to debut with fully integrated data from the Obama Administration's newly released College Scorecard initiative. In addition to the same projected net costs that College Abacus has been providing for years, the new Pell Abacus desktop site displays school-specific data on a range of different financial factors, such as average loan payments for Pell students, the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants and the average monthly income percentage spent on federal loan repayments after college.

"We've been asking for a tool like this for years and could not be more delighted to have Pell Abacus make its debut at our annual conference," said NCAN Executive Director Kim Cook. "We're particularly excited about the potential Pell Abacus has to fill the void of financial literacy tools available to students on the devices they're already using, like cell phones, and are looking forward to working with our partners to make sure students everywhere have an opportunity to use it."

Earlier this year, College Abacus worked with the White House and U.S. Department of Education to integrate the Obama Administration's new College Scorecard data into its live consumer tool. College Abacus and Pell Abacus pull school-specific data from the College Scorecard API, which includes information going back 18 years from the U.S Department of Education, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue System. That information is then displayed on users' results pages, alongside individualized net prices for each school being searched.


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