Note: This page gives you an idea of your need-based aid "Bookends", meaning the expected maximum and minimum amounts of your need-based aid. If you would like to learn more about merit-based aid, read up on the twin topics of "College Affordability for Upper Income Families & Merit-Based Aid" on my Et Cetera page.
This page guides you through Net Price Calculator programs for one of the most generous and two of the least generous colleges I analyze every year. The result will be your financial aid "Bookends", schools that reflect the most and the least need-based aid - and the lowest and the highest net cost and loans - your family can expect. You've already seen my seven page Compilations on my Results page, where the most generous colleges are on Page 1 and the least generous ones are on Page 7. On this page we use as examples one consistently Page 1 school and two consistently Page 7 schools. I chose these colleges for three reasons. First, they demonstrate the huge variance in the need-based aid available to most American families at American colleges. Second, all three of these schools offer typical students need-based aid only. And third, their NPC's are three of the easiest to use I've found nationwide. This page will have obvious value for families with kids in high school, but it can be a terrific planning tool for parents with younger kids as well. Those parents are probably pretty flipped out about the future cost of college for their kids, and they are probably wondering just how much they really need to save. Using this page will confirm for them that the really generous American colleges are definitely not as interested in their money as they are in their kids. So, their first focus should be on helping their kids become more interesting and effective students and citizens, rather than just building a financial war chest. Those parents can also use this page to see how much increasing their college savings today will affect the financial aid their kids should expect to actually receive later. On this page I will explain every step in the NPC process for the three schools, and you will input your family's own financial data into each of NPCs to see what the costs and financial aid would be like for your family at those schools next year. I expect the result to be the "Bookends" of your net college costs and aid, how good it can be versus how bad it can be. But I have two other motives: I want you to see just how easy it is to do NPC's, and I want you to use the built in EFC estimator at one of the two state schools to give you an accurate estimate of your Estimated Family Contribution that you can use in Net Price Calculators at other schools right now. One of my Bookends, the one which traditionally has superb aid, is Harvard, a privately-funded college where costs and aid will be about the same for all families nationwide. But my other Bookend, with aid that has tended to be at the other extreme, is actually two publicly-funded schools, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Washington at Seattle. You will choose one or the other of these schools depending on your state of residence. Those who aren't California residents will complete the NPC for Berkeley, and those who are California residents will complete the NPC for the University of Washington. The reason is that both Berkeley and the U-Dub have reasonably generous aid for in-state students, but their aid for out-of-state students is at the other extreme. I've prepared two forms in Word for your convenience, and you will be filling in the blanks on one or the other of them depending on your state of residence. These forms - and all the forms used in Comparisons and data Compilations in this site - use our standard Apples-to-Apples format where the names of the schools are on the left, the bottomline amounts for Moms and Dads are on the right, and standard amounts are used for standard costs.
I. BOOKENDS FOR MY MIDDLE-INCOME SAMPLE FAMILY But let's start by taking a look at the 2020 Bookends for my middle income sample family. We'll begin with the 49-state version, the one showing cost and aid data for non-California families, where the best expected aid is at Harvard and the worst is at Berkeley.
First, you'll see that the Stabilized Net Cost (SNC) for Harvard, the amount for Moms and Dads to pay or for students and parents to borrow, is a negative number. Negative SNCs only occur when especially generous colleges have lower expectations of Student Work than the standard used in this site, and negative SNCs are not refunded to students or their parents. And, if you take a look at the Compilations on my Results page, and if you track the lowest SNCs for both income groups for the five previous years on my Archives page, you'll see that Harvard isn't alone in expecting no parental payments at all from middle and lower income families. Next, you'll see that the difference in the Stabilized Net Costs between Harvard and Berkeley is huge, $65,678 per year. Since the Expected Family Contribution for my middle income sample family for 2019/2020 was $4,326 and since we assume that any amount of Stabilized Net Cost above the EFC must be borrowed, the difference in the amount of expected loans between the two schools is equally stark. No loans at all were expected per year at Harvard; but $59,309 in loans per year were expected at Berkeley, an amount that almost equals that family's Adjusted Gross Income, working out to an incredible $237,236 in loans over four years, a new record for this site. Now, let's shift to our "2019/2020 California Bookends" for my middle income sample family, this time assuming a resident family from California. Here we will Bookend the costs and aid at Harvard with the costs and aid for non-resident students at the University of Washington.
Of course, our input data was unchanged except for the state of residence of the applicant, so Harvard has the same data as before, and the distance between it and the other Bookend is a little bit less, but still enormous. The Stabilized Net Cost for non-resident students at the University of Washington was $42,767 which is $44,810 more per year than at Harvard. After deducting my sample family's EFC of $4,326 from its Stabilized Net Cost that left $38,441 in expected loans per year, meaning a ridiculous total of $153,764 in loans over four years.
II. NO CONSUMER PROTECTION Given that the average total amount of student debt in America resulting from one bachelor's degree is $33,500 - a number that is already far too high - that means, for out-of-state students, Washington's total is almost 4.6 times the average amount and Berkeley's is a little more than seven times the average amount of loans. At this point you are probably wondering how any students or parents could agree to total student and parent debt above $150,000 for one bachelor's degree. There are several reasons why it happens much more often than it should, but there is one paramount fact that controls the shape of the financial aid table. There is simply no consumer protection for college applicants and their families. I think we can all agree that, at a minimum, there should be a government-required warning when NPC results at any school indicate that student and parent loans will exceed a reasonable standard. I mean, if the Surgeon General can require health warnings on tobacco products and bottles of wine, and if all the states can mandate defect disclosures on all home sales and rentals, governments can require colleges to flag excessive expected loans. You might think these high-loan colleges would be honorable and decent enough to do it themselves, but I've never seen one that is. Not one, and that's after more than two thousand NPC analyses spread over seven years. So, I think government action will be required to protect our students and parents. Programming an excessive expected loan trigger into NPCs would be easy, and an instant pop-up like this ought to get people's attention:
EXCESSIVE LOAN ALERT!
UNDER STANDARDS ESTABLISHED BY THE SECRETARY OF EDUCATION OF THE UNITED STATES, YOUR RESULTS IN THIS NET PRICE CALCULATOR PROGRAM INDICATE THAT YOUR LOANS AT THIS INSTITUTION WILL BE EXCESSIVE, AND THE SECRETARY ADVISES YOU TO EXPAND YOUR COLLEGE SEARCH TO INCLUDE OTHER COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES.
I've been at this for a long time, and maybe I've lost my sense of humor, but I think that excessive education loans are a racket. That racket requires at least the silent cooperation of politicians, secondary schools, the media, governmental agencies, and colleges - good and bad, honest and dishonest - for it to exist. That racket fosters the false expectation in our society of the necessity of excessive student and parent loans. Students and parents are the victims. And something affirmative needs to be done to break the cycle of victimization. It looks to me like the US government has pretty much quit doing effective governance - they just shout - and I don't expect that situation to get better soon. But you can fight the high loan racket and win your own corner of that battle by being knowledgeable education consumers, a skill you're learning in this website.
III. FORMAT AND FORMS Remember that we have two goals for this page. We want to establish the Bookends for the need-based aid your students will receive per year in college, meaning your approximate maximum and approximate minimum, and we want to get you an accurate estimate of your Expected Family Contribution. To accomplish these goals, you will all do at least two different NPCs. You will all do Harvard's NPC, because it has very generous need-based aid. Then you will all do Berkeley's NPC, because - although it has almost non-existent need-based aid for students who are not California residents - the EFC estimator that's built into its NPC program is really accurate. Then the California residents will do the NPC program for the University of Washington, but they will make their job a lot easier by inputting Berkeley's EFC estimate into the U-Dub's NPC. And this whole thing will be a cake walk if you just do it in order. Non-Californians will need to download and/or print this form:
The only other thing you will need to complete these NPCs is your 2018 tax return.
IV. NOW, EVERYONE DOES HARVARD'S NPC A. Open a new page in your browser, type "harvard.edu" in the search box, and you should land on Harvard's homepage. B. Left-click on the magnifying glass icon in the upper right corner of the page. Where it says "What can we help you find?", type "net price calculator", and press Enter. C. Choose the first alternative, and you should land in Harvard's NPC. D. Read the short list of disclaimers in the pop-up, and you're ready to begin. E. Left-click on each question, and choose your answers from the drop-downs or fill them in as required. F. Explanations of the questions are found under the question mark icons next to each question. G. Remember that colleges are interested in the amount of your available resources, so: 1. Your amount of cash and savings is your usual balance on the day before you get paid, not the day after. 2. Funds in your retirement accounts are not readily available, so Harvard asks that you not include them. 3. Harvard also asks that you not include your home equity. Harvard uses the term "Your Estimated Scholarship" for Total Grants, so fill that amount in the Total Grants blank on your Bookends form. To get the other two numbers we'll need to complete your Apples-to-Apples analysis for Harvard - its Tuition & Fees and Room & Board - left-click the black button labeled "Learn More About the Estimate" and those values will appear in a stack on the left side of the page. Fill them into those spaces on your Bookends form, do the addition and subtraction from left to right on that row, and you're done. Harvard does not include an EFC estimator in its NPC program, but we're going to get one from Berkeley.
V. NEXT, EVERYONE DOES BERKELEY'S NPC A. Open a new page in your browser, type "berkeley.edu" in the search box, and you should land on Berkeley's homepage. B. Left-click in the search box in the upper right corner of the page, type "net price calculator", and press Enter. C. Choose the first alternative, and you should land in Berkeley's NPC. D. Scroll down and, assuming that your student is your dependent, left-click on "(Fall or Spring) Dependent Net Price Calculator." E. If you hover your cursor over each question or answer, an explanatory bubble will open. Either choose or fill in your answers as appropriate. Numeric answers should not include commas or dollar signs. F. Self-employed parents should understand that, when colleges ask for "Income Taxes Paid", that amount should just include federal income taxes paid and not self-employment taxes paid which are accounted for in "Adjustments to Income" at the bottom of the first page on your 1040. G. Again, colleges are interested in the amount of your available resources, so: 1. Your amount of cash and savings is your usual balance on the day before you get paid, not the day after. 2. Funds in your retirement accounts are not readily available, so those funds are generally excluded. 3. Berkeley does not ask the amount of your home equity. Once you've answered all of Berkeley's questions, you left-click the "Estimate Financial Aid" button, Berkeley's NPC Results will appear. Near the top of that page, you'll find Berkeley's estimate of your Expected Family Contribution. I've found that Berkeley's EFC estimator is accurate for my sample families, so write that number down. It will save you a lot of time filling out NPCs for plenty of colleges. Now, Californians can proceed to Section VI on this page, but the rest of us need to complete the Berkeley line on your 49-State Bookends form. The NPC's for schools in the University of California system do not have a single line item for non-resident tuition, so we'll find our applicant's total Tuition & Fees by adding the $17,804 shown for "Tuition and Fees" to the $29,754 shown for "Non-Resident Tuition" for a total of $47,558 which we'll record in the Tuition & Fees blank on your 49-State Bookends form. Next, Berkeley charges $19,422 for Room & Board, and we'll fill that number into that blank in the form. The last number we need from Berkeley's NPC results is the amount of Total Grants which Berkeley shows as "Grant Award" which you'll fill in as Total Grants on your Bookends form. Then, just do the addition and subtraction from left to right on the form, and the result will be your Stabilized Net Cost at Berkeley in the far right column. I should note that for the last few years Berkeley's NPC results have not shown the amount of federal Pell Grants in its "Grant Award" entry. Since Pell Grants are automatic for American students from families earning less than about $70,000 per year, I fill in typical Pell amounts for my sample families in my Berkeley results, $1,845 for my middle income family and $5,445 for my lower income family. But, since Berkeley's other grant aid for out-of-state students is zero, its omission of the Pell Grant amount doesn't make much difference in its net results.
VI. LASTLY, CALIFORNIANS DO THE U-DUB'S NPC - INPUTTING BERKELEY'S EFC ESTIMATE Now the Californians get to take the short route through the University of Washington's NPC program by using the EFC estimate they just learned in Berkeley's NPC. A. Open a new tab on your browser and type "washington.edu", and you should land on the U-Dub homepage. B. Left-click the magnifying glass icon in the upper right corner, and an input strip will open up. C. Type "net price calculator" in the input strip, and press Enter. D. On the Google search list that appears, left-click the first entry, and should land on the U-Dub's NPC page. E. Scroll past the "EFC estimator" link, since we already got a good EFC estimate from Berkeley. So, scroll down another inch on that page, and left-click the blue "Net price calculator" hyperlink. Type in your estimated EFC from Berkeley's NPC program, and answer the few remaining questions. As always, the "parents' income" is your Adjusted Gross Income" from your tax return. Lastly, let's choose the Seattle Campus. F. Left-click "Estimate Award" when you're done. The U-Dub does not segregate costs but lumps them under "Cost of Attendance." So, lets left-click that hyperlink, and a new tab will open on your browser. If you look under the heading "Living on/of campus", you'll find your Room & Board is labeled "Rent, utilities & food", and it's currently $13,296. Your Tuition & Fees is labeled "Non-Resident Tuition", and it's currently $38,166. So, fill in those blanks on your Bookends form. For Total Grants, reopen the "Net price calculator" tab, add up anything clearly labeled a grant under "Your Estimated Awards" and fill that total into the Total Grants column of your Bookends form. Now, do the addition and subtraction from left to right to get your Stabilized Net Cost at the University of Washington.
Copyright 2020, Mark Warns, All Rights Reserved
Here again are a Word version of my Apple-to-Apples template for your own college cost comparisons along with a Word version of my blank data input pages that you can download for use by your own family: