The purpose of this website is to help middle and lower income American parents find truly affordable colleges for their children while minimizing their college debt. Although the techniques I developed for this site are equally effective for upper income families, my focus is on helping students who are eligible for Pell Grants - students from American families with household incomes less than about $70,000 per year - find affordable colleges. This site is about saving ON college, not saving FOR college. My goal is to help the dreams that middle and lower income American parents have for the educations of their children come true, within their reality as it exists today, using assets they already have. Although the techniques you will learn in this site are unique, my goal isn't, and you will find a great many individuals and organizations in America who equate their success with yours. At the outset, you need to hear and believe something you've never heard before. Finding colleges that will be truly affordable for you and your family is the easiest and most reliable aspect of an effective college search. The other aspects of an effective college search aren't that hard either, and they all need to be done, but our Congress passed a law in 2008 that made finding affordable colleges a piece of cake, and it's continued to be a piece of cake since that law became fully effective in 2011. The Congressional solution is accurate, it's reliable, it's free, it gets you the information you need right now, and it's available from virtually all American colleges. The only problem is that your high school almost certainly didn't tell you - the people with the real "need to know" - about this solution at all. So, you've probably been stuck believing in a problem that, if you're willing do your part, has already been resolved. But that's about to change. You're about to learn skills that will change your lives and the lives of your students, and you'll be astonished by some of the affordable college opportunities available to your kids next year. Congratulations on finding this website, and welcome aboard!
Three Notes (so far): 1. The "American College Generosity" website is intended for parents, counselors, and teachers whose students are already convinced of the value of a college education, meaning students who are already sold on the college concept. If your kids or students aren't at that stage yet, I have another site that can help you nudge them in that direction. The name of that site is "See Your Kids in College;" and it's light, easy, and effective. It's methods are intended for students who are about to enter middle school - right when student effectiveness usually tanks - but its methods work for all students. It starts from the fact that college sounds like work, but looks like fun. Here's its URL: http://seeyourkidsincollege.weebly.com/ Enjoy! 2. This website is going through its mid-year review, and additions and modifications are being made to every page. As always, it will be a "running line change" with the changes uploaded as they are researched and written. And, last but not least... 3. I learned the skills I teach in this site while helping our son Gregory find effective and affordable colleges. Greg ultimately matriculated as an electrical engineering major in the Tufts University School of Engineering in the fall of 2013, and we are now burned-out-but-back from his graduation. Greg graduated on-time with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, and he minored in Music Engineering with a concentration in Electronic Musical Instrument Design. While at Tufts, Greg stayed active in music, recording three EP's with his band "Shark Saddle" and also recording four solo EP's and one LP. Here's the link to Greg's LP, https://unclesugar.bandcamp.com/. Words, as you might expect, cannot describe how pleased Katia and I are with Greg's experience on "The Hill." Thank you, Tufts, and go Jumbos!
I. ACG BACKGROUND Almost all of my working life has been focused on client service. I've had three actual "careers" since law school: first as a lawyer (mainly as a criminal prosecutor and investigation manager), then as a stockbroker, and finally as a commercial and residential real estate broker. In each of these careers, the needs of my clients always came first, and my goal was to help each of my clients achieve the best results possible in their circumstances. The last of my working careers faded away during the Great Recession, unluckily at the same time as my kids were getting ready to look for colleges. So, I put my client service skills to work on finding colleges that fit both their academic needs and our combined budgets. Just like working for other clients, my goal was not to help my kids find "typical" or "average" opportunities. Rather, it was to find the best opportunities available. Working first with our son Gregory, my goal was to find one opportunity that fully fit his needs, then to find another, and another, and then to use what I had learned to develop a convenient, valid, and repeatable method of finding even more great opportunities for him that year and for our daughter Maria two years later. Working with Greg, I found that, by using the Net Price Calculator programs that had just been required by Congress, finding affordable colleges was really the easiest part of a college search. Just pick a school, type "net price calculator" in its website's search box, answer their questions, turn the crank, and record its results. With a little practice, the whole process only took ten minutes or so per school, and then we could be certain whether that school would be affordable for us or not. And, after Greg's matriculation at Tufts in the fall of 2013, I realized that: 1. Although Net Price Calculator programs should have revolutionized the affordability aspect of the college search process, making the burdens of excessive college costs and loans really a matter of choice for students and families, even the most knowledgeable parents and guidance counselors usually knew nothing about them at all; 2. My method of making the best sense out of NPC results was unique, and no one else had published anything addressing the same issues; and 3. Our family's income was in the same range as the median household incomes of a lot of American states – like Washington, New York, Colorado, California, Minnesota, and plenty of others - making the data I had already collected relevant to a lot of other families. So I explained it, expanded it, and published it as the American College Generosity website, a site that's now in its fourth year. In addition to showing families how to do their own financial aid searches and how to make sense out of Net Price Calculator results, I include analyses of the actual costs and available aid at about 125 American colleges for sample families at both the middle and lower income levels. And this site is now used by thousands of American families each year. ACG has developed into a service project for our family, with all of us involved directly or indirectly. Realizing that Greg's education has largely been funded by the generosity of Tufts University - and that Trinity College is now doing the same for our daughter Maria - we offer our service at no charge, doing our best to show our thanks and broaden the impact of their generosity.
II. ACG BASICS Huge college costs and impossible college loans should already be a thing of the past, because those problems have been easy to avoid since 2011. That was the effective date of a law passed by Congress in 2008 requiring almost all American colleges to include Net Price Calculator programs ("NPC's") on their websites. NPC's allow parents and students to get free, immediate, and highly accurate estimates of the financial aid available to them next yearat almost every American college, before they apply to any college this year. Those estimates reflect their family's unique financial situation, and they are required to be 97% accurate. Using those estimates, students and their parents can focus from the outset on only the schools that they can afford, avoiding even the possibility of excessive college costs and loans. The implications of NPC's were revolutionary, but there was a major defect in the law that established them. It required all colleges receiving federal funds to have NPC's on their websites, and you will find that all American colleges are in full compliance with that law. However, Congress did not require American high schools to tell parents and students about NPC's, and they haven't, then or now. So, even though NPC's have been required for five full years, it is unlikely that you have seen the phrase "Net Price Calculator" before reading it here today. But, you found this site somehow, and you are going to become experts in using NPC's right here in the next hour. In this site you will learn how to use NPC's effectively, resolving the minor issues that limit their efficiency. You will also review examples of NPC results based on the financial data of two sample families, one at the middle and one at the lower income level, for about 125 American colleges. But your results will be based on your family's own finances, and they will be unique to your family. It will be a fun process of discovery, and your NPC results will help you focus your college search on realistic alternatives that meet your individual needs. I'm certain you will find your NPC results surprising, enlightening, and maybe even life changing. However, your results will depend on your effort. Your results are truly up to you. To paraphrase Aristotle, "If you do the reps, you'll get the rewards." And the reps themselves are easy. In fact, they are as easy as reading the instructions at the top of the next form and filling in the blanks. This is a PDF version of the form I use for all my published analyses, and this is a great time to get used to it. The layout is the same as a baseball scoreboard, with the name of the school on the left and its final score on the right, and the only math you'll use is easier than on a 1040EZ. Also, unlike typical NPC results, my "Apples-to-Apples" method uses standard dollar amounts for common factors. This both stabilizes and enhances the accuracy of NPC results, especially for more generous colleges, allowing you and your family to make more valid comparisons. In addition to this PDF, I have included a Word version of this form for your convenience at the bottom of all the pages of this website.
For your convenience, here also is an NPC Data Sheet you and your family can use when filling out NPC's. It's ready for you and your family to fill in your answers to all the questions I was asked by all 125 colleges I analyzed this year. It's pretty simple, and it will help keep all your family members who fill out NPC's "singing from the same sheet of music." It's a PDF, but there is a Word version at the bottom of this and every other page of this website.
III. NPC's AND EFC's Congress required Net Price Calculator programs on college websites to help parents and students sift the affordable from the non-affordable colleges early in their college searches. NPC results are required to be 97% accurate, and NPC's are a great search tool, but they are not applications for financial aid at those colleges. Your actual financial aid applications will come later, usually in January or February, after your students have decided where to apply and after they have filed their actual applications with those schools. Each of the schools where your children apply will have different requirements for their own financial aid applications, but it's likely that they will all use the results of another application you will fill out online for the US Department of Education, the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance or FAFSA. Since the FAFSA is based on your total income from the previous year, it's another item intended for January and February. By the way, the Department of Education has recently established procedures that allow early FAFSA filing based on your income from last year, but that's really the answer to the question nobody asked. When you are in the pre-application phase of your college search, before you decide where to actually apply, you're going to sift through a lot of schools, and early filing of your FAFSA won't help you at all. Why? 1. The only thing the FAFSA gives you is your Expected Family Contribution, your "EFC." But almost all colleges include a reasonably accurate estimate of your EFC in their NPC results anyway, like it or not. 2. Although your Net Price Calculator results at each school where your kids decide to apply should be within 3% of the actual financial aid offers at each college where they are ultimately accepted, your Expected Family Contribution does not have to correlate with your actual aid offers. Consider this: I have Compilations posted near the bottom of this page and on my Examples page listing NPC results for sample families at about 125 schools at both a middle and a lower income level. At each income level the Expected Family Contribution is exactly the same for those families at each of those schools. But the Remaining Balances - bottomline amounts for parents to pay or for the students and parents to borrow - vary among those 125 schools from nothing at all per year to over $50,000 per year. And my calculations of Expected Annual Loans at those income levels and at those schools also vary from nothing at all to over $50,000 per year. So, your NPC results - meaning your expected aid - will correlate directly with your actual aid offers, but those numbers and your EFC will only jive at your more generous college choices.
IV. ACG METHODOLOGY To assure accuracy and consistency in my comparisons, I have established two sample families, one with an income of $60,000 per year, one with an income of $40,000 per year. Full profiles for those families are in the "Input Data" Section near the top of my Examples page, and my specific 2016/2017 NPC input data for both families are in the table below. Since your NPC results will be unique to your family, your results will not be the same as the results for my sample families. Also, all the tables you will see in this website follow the same pattern, with the names of the colleges on the left, the costs and aid for those schools in the middle, and the "Remaining Balance" - what's left for parents to pay or for students and parents to borrow - on the right. The "Student Work" amount of $5,000 assumes a 25 hour per week summer job and an 8 hour per week Work Study job during the school year with both paying $10 per hour. The schools are ranked by the generosity of their financial aid programs at the given income level, with the most generous schools at the top and the least generous schools at the bottom. Finally, I never include any loans as financial aid anywhere in this site. Loans really aren't financial aid, loans are a way to defer the payment of a present cost to a later time while paying an interest fee to cover the amount of delay. So, all the financial aid you will see in this website is loan-free. Here's a table containing the input data used in all the 2016/2017 Compilations and Comparisons in this site:
V. RECENT FINANCIAL AID HISTORY If your children are seniors in high school this year, three remarkable events have completely altered college financial aid in America during their lives. The first was in 2000 when Princeton University began meeting all the financial need of its students without any student or parent loans. That meant that if colleges intended to compete for the best students, they had to match Princeton, and that event made financial aid competitive. The second event happened when the Net Price Calculator requirement, which had been passed by Congress and signed into law in 2008, became effective in 2011. That event made financial aid transparent. The third event was the publishing of the College Access Index annually by "The Upshot" team at The New York Times. It ranks successful colleges by their "accessibility", and lists the percentage of their graduates from the previous year who received Pell Grants (U.S. government assistance to students from families with incomes of $70,000 per year and less). That event has highlighted the needs of middle and lower income students, and it is encouraging a healthy competition among better colleges in serving the needs of those students and families. The net result of those three events is nothing but good news for middle and lower income students. Now, colleges compete for them with their financial aid as well as their academic programs. Now, that competition is transparent and wide open in real time to any family using NPC's. And now, effective students from middle and lower income families are in greater demand at successful colleges than ever before. Hurray! I'll also note that the methods developed for this website can broaden the impact and increase the utility of all three of these events. By not considering any student or parent loans as financial aid, our Apples-to-Apples method has the effect of pouring all NPC data for all schools into a Princeton-like no-loan mold. Our Apples-to-Apples method also stabilizes and enhances the accuracy and comparability of NPC results, especially for more generous schools. And, by focusing all of the Examples shown in this site on only Pell Grant qualifying family incomes, this site provides ready correlates for NYT's College Access Index.
VI. FINANCIAL AID BASICS As I said above, the purpose of this website is to help families save on college, not save for college. Indeed, the Great Recession has turned into the Continuous Recession for many American families, and none of us has saved as much as we wanted for our children's education. But we're all in the same boat. So relax, throw your regrets over the side, and realize this. The college financial aid system in America is not based on guilt, it's based on generosity. Also, the colleges in that system aren't competing for us parents, they're competing for our kids. And whether we're depressed by guilt - or even thrilled by self-righteousness - means absolutely nothing to the colleges competing for our kids. Those colleges compete for our kids with their campuses, their faculties, and their programs, but they also compete with their financial aid. And our job as parents is to let them do so, to not let our feelings stand in the way of that competition, but to facilitate that competition for the benefit of our kids. In fact, I think you will realize while reading this site that interesting and effective students are in great demand, and your most efficient college savings plan is helping your own children become more interesting and effective students. Now, before we get too deeply into our topic, let's make sure we cover the basics. When I started helping my son with his college search six years ago, I found that almost everything I thought I knew about college financial aid was the opposite of reality. The truth was usually counter-intuitive, the opposite of what I expected. So, here's a list of what I wish I'd known about college financial aid six years ago when I started helping my son: 1. Although the published cost of privately-funded colleges will usually be much higher than the published cost of publicly-funded schools, especially for those in your home state, the financial aid offered by private schools to middle and lower income American families will frequently more than cover the difference. So, be prepared for good news, and don't be surprised if private colleges are your family's most affordable college alternatives. 2. There are two primary types of financial aid, need-based aid and merit-based aid. Financial aid departments at colleges determine the amount of need-based aid, and they typically base their decisions on a financial aid application filed with them by the students - really their parents - as supported by the federal government's Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. 3. Families input their financial data into the FAFSA, and its final product is the Expected Family Contribution, or EFC. That's the amount that the parents and the student are expected to contribute annually toward that student's education. Although the EFC is supposed to include both the parents' and the student's contributions, the estimated amount of student earnings in the more commonly used Federal Methodology is so low, $100 per year, that parents should think of their EFC's as the estimate of their contribution only. 4. The actual FAFSA is formal, it isn't anonymous, and it allows only a limited number of modifications before it objects, so I recommend starting with one of the easy EFC Estimators included in some college NPC programs. Some of these EFC Estimators are inaccurate, but last year I found the EFC Estimators within the NPC's of the Universities of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles to be highly accurate. The stand-alone EFC Estimator on the University of Washington's NPC page is nearly as accurate while also being very easy to use. 5. To give you an idea of EFC amounts for various income levels, here's a table that I prepared in early 2015 showing EFC estimates for nine hypothetical families with incomes from $40,000 to $200,000 per year. I did the data for this table for a press release covering an error in the FAFSA - it was corrected soon afterwards - and I used the College Board's very accurate EFC Estimator for my research. A link to that program is included in the table.
Obviously, your actual EFC will depend on your personal financial information, but you can see from that table that EFC goes up as the parents' income goes up, both as a dollar amount and as a percentage. Some of you are also probably wondering why families earning $200,000 per year bother with the FAFSA at all. You may be asking, "Don't they just pay the 'sticker price'?" Well, that depends on the school. Some of the most generous schools still cover significant costs like Room & Board at an income of $200,000 while, at the other end of the income spectrum, some schools offer none of their own aid to students from families earning $40,000. It just depends on the school. 6. Unlike need-based aid, the admissions and academic departments of colleges determine the amount of any merit-based aid they offer their students, if that college offers any merit-based aid at all. Merit-based aid is not dependent on need, and it will be the same amount for all students demonstrating the same merit, whether they are from higher or lower income families. Merit-based aid at the colleges offering it can be as significant as need-based aid, and - as with need-based scholarships - full-ride merit-based scholarships are not unusual. 7. Net Price Calculators on college websites provide 97% accurate estimates of both the need- and merit-based aid that will be offered to those students by that school if they are accepted for admission. So, NPC's are the best way to develop a list of where to apply, but NPC results are not final financial aid offers, and students and parents need to file formal financial aid applications at each school after the students have actually applied for admission. This is usually done in January or February. 8. The vast majority of college financial aid comes from the colleges themselves through their admission and financial aid departments, and it does not come from outside scholarships. In fact, colleges typically deduct outside aid from the amount of need-based aid they offer their students, and this makes a lot of sense. Outside aid reduces need, which will typically reduce need-based aid at the colleges by the same amount as the outside aid received. 9. Well-meaning community service organizations and businesses, however, continue to offer lots and lots of small-dollar outside scholarships, not knowing that they will be deducted from the colleges' regular aid packages. Realistically, the only students who should apply for them are students who don't really need them. 10. Published college aid ratings are usually based on the average aid-per-student at the schools, making those ratings automatically suspect, and they will usually be inaccurate for your students. Do your own NPC's to get data that will be accurate for your students at your target schools, and don't rely on published financial aid ratings. 11. You will find that almost all colleges claim to offer generous financial aid, and about a third of them really do. And the variance in the amount of financial aid offered by American colleges is absolutely huge, even among similar schools, organized in similar ways, doing similar things. Differences of $30,000 per year in Remaining Balances, my Mom-Dad-or-Borrow column, are not unusual at all. 12. Some colleges are "need-blind" and some are "need-aware." This means that some schools have enough resources to not consider whether a student can afford the school, while some schools have to factor in the students' ability to pay in their admissions decisions. But I have found that the amount of individual financial aid offers are unaffected by the schools' policies in this regard, and the policy won't matter to accepted applicants at all because once you're in, you're in. 13. I have never found an accurate list of "no-loan colleges", but I don't think it matters. In fact, I've found that it's not unusual for loan-inclusive schools to make no-loan financial aid offers to students, meaning offers that are generous enough to not require any student or parent loans. So, what matters isn't whether a college is or claims to be a no-loan school, what matters is whether that school makes your student a no-loan offer. 14. What I consider a no-loan offer, by the way, is one where the Remaining Balance is not greater than the Expected Family Contribution, and I cover that topic in the "Pell Kids" page of this website where you will see plenty of examples.
VII. ACG 2016/2017 COMPILATIONS
Note: This section is a shortened version of my Examples page, and my goal is to show the incredible range in net costs among American colleges. The same disclaimers in the middle of my Examples page also apply here.
These are my Compilations for the 2016/2017 school year. You will see that there are two types of Compilations this year. The first type matches those in this site's three previous years where the target value is the Remaining Balance, the leftover amount for Mom and Dad to pay or for the student and parents to borrow. The next type of Compilation is new. The layout is the same as the originals, but now the target value is the Expected Annual Loans required at each of the 126 schools analyzed at both the middle and lower income levels. These 126 schools represent only 5% of the 2500 four-year colleges in America. Also, these Compilations only include cost and aid data as established by the colleges' own Net Price Calculator Programs for my sample families - not your family - and the data are for non-resident or out-of-state students only. The improvement for in-state students at publicly funded in-state schools - and at private ones in some states - is typically huge. As examples, the Remaining Balance for California residents at the $60K income level at UCLA is about $5,000 - or one tenth the amount for out-of-staters, and the Remaining Balance for Washington residents at that income level at the University of Washington is about the same $5,000 - or one eighth the amount for out-of-staters. So, the in-state Remaining Balances of $5,000 for California kids at UCLA and Washington kids at the U-Dub are the rough equivalents of their Expected Family Contributions at that income, making them no-loan offers. But you will see that the Remaining Balances for out-of-staters at both schools result in anything but no-loan offers. Both of these examples show the value of doing your own data, a phrase you will only read about twenty more times in this site.
SOLVING FOR THE "REMAINING BALANCE" Note: Six schools at the $60K income level and twenty-three schools at the $40K income level have Remaining Balance amounts that are below zero. Negative Remaining Balances typically occur when highly generous schools have a lower expectation of Student Work than the standard used in the ACG website, and these amounts are not refunded to parents or students.
Now, here's the Compilation for our $60K data set solving for the Remaining Balance:
(Where the Remaining Balance minus the Expected Family Contribution equals the Expected Annual Loans.)
Note: You will see in these two Compilations that families should expect no-loan offers at 29 schools in the $60K Compilation and at 30 schools in the $40K Compilation, but that doesn't make the Remaining Balances - the Mom and Dad column - the same for all the schools. Despite the lack of expected loans, there is still a $6,209 range in the annual Remaining Balances at $60K and a $4,994 range at $40K. Additionally, although there is a great deal of commonality in the schools with expected no-loan offers on the $60K and $40K lists, that does not mean that those schools will have expected no-loan offers at all income levels. As always, the only way to find out your own results is to do your own data.
Now, here's the Compilation for our $60K data set solving for Expected Annual Loans:
IX. OTHER GENEROUS COLLEGES One of the purposes of this site is to demonstrate the incredible variation in net costs among American colleges, even among schools doing similar things in similar ways in similar areas. I chose the original list of colleges that I analyzed for a lot of different reasons, but I wanted them to represent all regions of our country. Back then, I wasn't really interested in identifying all the generous colleges in America, but now I can't think of a good reason not to. So, if you represent a college that you think fits somewhere in the top half of my Compilations, act like a visitor to your website, run your NPC using my $60K and $40K input data, and plug your numbers into my Apples-to-Apples comparison form at the bottom of this page. If it looks like you fit, send me an e-mail. I'll respond to your message within one day, I'll confirm your numbers within three days, and - if all goes well - you'll be on the list within a week. But there are two caveats I need to mention. First, if your school uses the most basic NPC software - the one that purports to show both need and merit-based aid without even asking the student's GPA, test scores, class rank, et cetera - I won't list your school because your results will automatically be suspect. Second, if your Expected Loan Differential is upside down, meaning my lower income sample family is socked with higher Expected Annual Loans than my middle income sample family, I will not publish your data until your school has resolved that discrepancy. Here's my 2016/2017 input data, and I look forward to hearing from you:
X. ON GENEROSITY Generosity was the inspiration for this site, and generosity is its theme. The word generosity frequently came to me as I began helping my son with his college search six years ago, as I did the same for my daughter four years ago, and as I have continued my research for this site. I have been continuously inspired by the generosity of the alumni and other benefactors of American colleges who have made educations at their schools possible for our children. Sometimes extending back for centuries, their generosity has shown a remarkable and lasting faith in their schools and in the generations of students who would benefit from their gifts.I thank them, and I hope we can show ourselves worthy of both their generosity and their foresight. But their generosity had a purpose. It formed a system, a loop, linking previous generations of students with the present generation. And it was a benefit that needed a beneficiary for its purpose to succeed. Without you, without your openness to that generosity, the loop will be interrupted, and this system of generosity will fail. I originally wrote this site in the last months of 2013, an important anniversary of the seminal event in American college generosity. Three hundred and seventy-five years before then, a very young and well-educated minister died in the Massachusetts Bay Colony leaving half of his wealth and all of his 260 books to a new school founded two years before in a neighboring village, a school named for him in gratitude two years later. Reverend John Harvard intended that his resources and library would be used for the enlightenment of the teachers and students of that new school.But, if his money had just been locked in a safe, and if his books were just locked in cases, the purpose of his generosity would have failed.Instead, his generosity was used to its fullest, becoming an invitation to the generosity of others and resulting in one of the world’s finest universities served by the greatest university library in the world. The system of American college generosity began there in 1638, it continues to spread and flourish, and its fruit is within your reach today. May its purpose be validated in you, may your educations be complete, and may your best dreams be fulfilled. Mark Warns, JD Founder, Author & Analyst American College Generosity