New Website Aggregates and Shares Student Financial Aid Award Information
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Posted by: Elizabeth Morgan, Director of External Relations
Launched in December, TuitionFit is a new entrant to the market of online services intended to help students choose a postsecondary institution. TuitionFit’s founder, Mark Salisbury, responded to NCAN’s questions about the platform and how it could benefit students served by college access and success programs.
What does TuitionFit do to help students applying to college?
TuitionFit allows users – students, parents, or counselors helping them through the search process – to see the actual prices that colleges are offering students with similar need and academic profiles in real time for free. This means that students can now compare the offers they get with the offers other similar students are getting. Armed with this information, students are more likely to find a college that is the right financial fit. Moreover, TuitionFit empowers students, parents, and counselors to take full advantage of the shifting student demographics and collectively push back against rising college prices.
How and when should students use TuitionFit?
As soon as a student uploads an award letter, that student can see the range of other prices offered by schools to comparable students to which they have not yet applied. So a student could immediately apply to a school that makes admission decisions quickly, upload that award letter, then track TuitionFit as other offers appear and use that information as they decide where else to apply. Or a student can upload a set of award letters as they get them and use the comparison information to determine if they want to try to negotiate a better price. Either way, the knowledge users gain from this collective sharing of data improves their ability to make the financial decisions that are best for them.
How can TuitionFit help low-income students and aspiring first-generation college-goers in particular?
Low-income and first-generation students are regularly put at the greatest disadvantage by the current college search process. Navigating the current system requires insider knowledge about how admissions works and the financial resources to put that knowledge to use. Low-income students don't have the money to apply to lots of schools, nor do they have the money to visit lots of campuses. But if students use TuitionFit (and if counselors encourage lots of students to use TuitionFit), these previously disadvantaged students have access to information about price that allows them to clearly see the financial implications of their choices as they move forward with their college search decisions. More than just showing these students actual prices, TuitionFit takes a lot of the uncertainty out of the way so that students can make confident decisions about institutions prior to putting the intellectual and emotional effort into applying for admission and making plans to enroll.
Do students pay to use TuitionFit?
TuitionFit is free to students, parents, and anyone guiding them through the college search process. To see current year prices, all you need to do is share at least one award letter. In future years (when we have multiple years of data), prior year data will be free to everyone no matter if you have an award letter to share or not.
TuitionFit generates revenue through providing colleges and universities the opportunity to buy subscriptions to the same data that the students see. However, for colleges and universities, TuitionFit organizes the data by student (still anonymized) which allows schools to see the offers that each user is considering. TuitionFit gives institutions the chance to reach out to student-users by indicating that the institution can offer the student a lower price than the ones the student is currently considering. Moreover, the data that TuitionFit maintains allow subscribing institutions to navigate the starkly competitive landscape of higher education with far more nuanced data than they have ever had before.
Does TuitionFit share students’ personal data with other entities?
TuitionFit vigorously protects every student's personally identifying and private information. The site is password protected, and we utilize all of the most effective protocols to secure each user’s information. If we ever conduct any analyses of the data, we strip all identifying information from the dataset before it is analyzed. And we never sell, rent, or share our data with any outside organization. Period.
How is TuitionFit different than a net price calculator (NPC) in assessing prospective college costs?
Although TuitionFit and a NPC both help students assess affordability, they come at the problem with different questions in mind. Each institution’s NPC is unique to that institution, so using one institution’s NPC only allows the student to assess the relative affordability of a single institution. TuitionFit allows users to assess the affordability of many institutions all at once and compare them in whatever way they choose. Practically speaking, this simplifies a student’s search for an affordable choice. In addition, TuitionFit doesn’t rely on a predictive formula, prices that users see on TuitionFit are actual, real-time prices offered to students with similar need and academic profiles. This can make a big difference because more and more often institutions are recalibrating their financial aid offers in the middle of a cycle after finding that they aren’t getting enough tuition deposits to meet their enrollment goals. An NPC formula isn’t able to take those changes into account.
What else should college access and success organizations know about TuitionFit?
TuitionFit is designed to level the playing field, not just between higher education institutions and the public, but between traditionally advantaged and disadvantaged students. TuitionFit's design mirrors the reason why organizations like NCAN exist: Our power is in our collective existence. When we team up and advocate together, we can change the world.