This is a new page on the ACG website that will deal with some of our more important topics in greater depth. I am currently adding and revising material every day, and I think you'll find it worthwhile.
This page includes more extended consideration of a few of the important topics introduced by the ACG site and a few that I can see coming down the road. At present, these topics are: 1. A Different Look at "Athletic Scholarships" for Pell Kids Who Are Student Athletes 2. College Affordability for Upper Income Families 3. How the Expected Three Percent Variability in NPC Results Really Works 4. "Smart U." - How Some Smart Schools Handle "Need-Aware" Admissions 5. "Aren't U." - How Some Other Schools Handle "Need-Aware" Admissions 6. Understanding the Higher Ed Swamp 7. Crystal Ball I - Defect Disclosure in College Admissions and Financial Aid 8. Crystal Ball II - Politics and College Financial Aid 9. Crystal Ball III - The Natural Direction of College Financial Aid 10. Crystal Ball IV - A Tale of Two Lawsuits
For your convenience and ready reference, I'll start by reprinting our Compilations.
A. Compilations solving for "Remaining Balance."
For the ACG sample family with an Adjusted Gross Income of $60,000 per year:
1. A Different Look at "Athletic Scholarships" for Pell Kids Who Are Student Athletes It's almost spring, and this is the time of year when many really good student athletes and their families are waiting for phone calls offering athletic scholarships to NCAA Division I and Division II - or NAIA - colleges. But, for most of those student athletes, those calls will never come. There are just too many really good athletes out there for the number of athletic scholarships available. Additionally, there are plenty of sports where very few, or even no, athletic scholarships are ever available at any college for their sports in America. I'm not trying to step on your students' D-I and D-II dreams, but I think the key is for students to back them up with a healthy dose of D-III reality, especially from more generous D-III schools. Look at the Compilations above and you will see that, if you're a middle or lower income student accepted at very generous D-III schools like Vassar or Bowdoin (that's BOH-dun), it's like you and every other student on their campuses who are in your income bracket are receiving an eighty to ninety percent football, basketball, lacrosse, field hockey, or cross country scholarship whether you're playing sports there or not. So, don't hang up your cleats, think D-III. For instance, Jack Kemp played quarterback for Occidental in L.A., he had a great professional career with the Buffalo Bills, he served as a leading member of Congress and as a cabinet secretary, and Oxy even named its stadium after him. And you students can now take a break and google Jack Kemp. Oy! Or, to quote Cicero, "O tempora, O mores!"
2. College Affordability for Upper Income Families You have seen that the focus of the American College Generosity website is helping middle and lower income American families find affordable colleges for their kids. But, as I said in the first paragraph of our Homepage, the same techniques that work for middle and lower income families can be used by upper income families. The only thing necessary is for those families to shift their focus from need-based aid to merit-based aid while using the same online search tools: the websites and especially the Net Price Calculator programs of the individual schools. Here, I need to reiterate that families with upper-middle and upper-incomes should not assume that they do not qualify for need-based aid. As examples, the most generous schools analyzed in this website still offer significant need-based aid to families with Adjusted Gross Incomes of $200,000 or even more. Dartmouth, for instance, has separate Net Price Calculator programs for families with incomes less than $200K and those with incomes higher than $200K. Upper-income families will use NPC's to discover the "obvious" and "embedded" merit-based aid programs discussed below, and they should leave the schools' definitions of their "neediness" up to the schools. While need-based aid is calculated by the financial aid departments of colleges from the income and assets of the student's family, merit-based aid is calculated by the admission office - or the cognizant department or school of the college - based on the perceived merit of the student. Merit-based aid can be based on the intelligence, skills, character, or achievements of students. It will be the same amount for all students with those same attributes no matter what their family incomes might be. Like all grant aid, merit-based aid acts as a discount against college costs, rather than as cash-in-hand, and it is not expected to be repaid to the school. As with need-based aid, the variance in available merit-based aid from school to school is absolutely huge, and it has the same range - from schools offering absolutely no merit-based to a particular student to those offering over $50,000 per year in merit-based aid to the same student. So, once again, interesting and effective students are in great demand, and the most efficient and effective college savings plan for parents is helping their children become more interesting and effective students. And, obviously, students and their families are paid well for doing their homework. As you parents and counselors work with your students, you will find that the availability and what I call the "visibility" of merit-based financial aid varies a lot, and I have found that merit-based aid falls into five categories: nonexistent, obvious, embedded, visible, and invisible. A. A large number of colleges offer need-based financial aid only, with no available merit-based aid at all, and they assume that all the students they accept are equally "meritorious." Schools with nonexistent merit-based aid are easy to spot via their Net Price Calculator programs since none of them will ask your student's GPA, class rank, or test scores. The Compilations above assume no merit-based aid, so the Grant Aid column in those Compilations for schools offering no merit-based aid will show a dollar amount only with no further annotation. A very small percentage of those schools, however, have what I call "invisible" - an equally good term would be "surprise" - merit-based aid for a very small number of accepted applicants, and I will discuss that topic below. B. Schools offering what I call "obvious" merit-based aid will either have a separate page on their websites for calculating merit-based aid, or they will ask "merit" questions like GPA, class rank, and test scores in their Net Price Calculator programs - or both, and then they will show merit-based aid as a separate line item in their NPC results. If you take a look under the Grant Aid column in the Compilations above, you will see separate line items for need-based and merit-based aid at those schools. C. Schools offering what I call "embedded" merit-based aid will usually have a separate page on their sites for calculating merit-based aid, and they will ask "merit" questions like GPA, class rank, and test scores in their NPC's, but then they will combine their need-based and merit-based grant aid as a single line item in their NPC results. If you take another look under the Grant Aid column in the Compilations above, you will see a single line item labeled Need & Merit at those schools. D. Schools offering what I call "visible" merit-based aid will definitely note it in their websites, and they may also include an explanatory page in their NPC programs. These merit-based scholarships are competitive, they require separate applications, and they can be huge, frequently covering all Tuition & Fees and sometimes covering all costs. Among the colleges I analyze, larger merit-based scholarship programs like this can be found at Washington and Lee University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Southern California; but you will find a number of smaller programs offering similar benefits at a lot private colleges. For instance, the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma offers four merit scholarships each year that cover 100% of all costs. E. I think that schools offering what I call "invisible" or "surprise" merit-based scholarships are very rare, because I know of only one school that awards that type of scholarship. And I am only aware of that school because my daughter Maria received a scholarship like that - the Presidential Scholarship - at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. Trinity was one of Maria's top two choices anyway, but their Presidential Scholarship offered a number of benefits - both financial and otherwise - that positively affected her decision. Her final decision was ultimately based on Trinity's credibility, its programs, and the opportunities it offered her, but the Presidential Scholarship was a positive factor too. However, neither of us had any idea that Trinity offered any merit-based assistance at all, and there was definitely no separate application for it. It turned out that it's something Trinity offers to students it identifies as its top applicants, but it arrived completely out of the blue - in a skinny envelope - before her actual acceptance arrived. Obviously, I have no idea if there are any other colleges that follow that procedure or how you might find them, but you can always call their admissions offices to find out. Also, Maria's experience proves that skinny envelopes from colleges can contain good news too, so don't just burn them. By the way, the University of Washington avoids the incineration of good news by delivering its acceptances in skinny envelopes emblazoned in large red letters with the phrase, "THIS IS THE THICK ENVELOPE!"
3. How the Expected Three Percent Variability in NPC Results Really Works I've mentioned the expected variance in NPC results a number of times in this site, and it's time for you to become experts in that topic. The government accuracy standard for NPC results is 97%, which makes its "inaccuracy standard" 3%. But, if you use the ACG Apples-to-Apples method, that 3% variability only affects the amount of Grant Aid, and let's think about why. Visualize, for a moment, the cost and aid headings on all the ACG Apples-to-Apples forms. The first two costs are Tuition & Fees and Room & Board, and they are non-variable "hard costs" established by the schools themselves. Then come three "soft costs" - Books & Supplies, Personal Expenses, and Travel Cost - which would have been very variable if we used the dissimilar estimates from the colleges, but we eliminate that source of variability by substituting reasonable constants for those three cost categories at all schools. This has the net effect of converting those three soft costs into non-variable hard costs too. The next category is actually a benefit - Student Work - where we eliminate variability once again by inserting a reasonable constant. So, the only point of potential variability that's left, using our Apples-to-Apples method, is the amount of Grant Aid, and that variability will not be apparent while you are doing your Net Price Calculator research. As you might expect, if you repeatedly plug the same input data into a particular school's NPC, you will always get the same results. You will get the same costs and the same amount of Grant Aid, no matter how many times you turn the crank. In fact, NPC variability only becomes apparent very late in the college application process, after your students have received their financial aid offers from all the schools that have accepted them. So, NPC variability is an "April thing", and it's an important and fun part of your final decisions. Let's take a look at how it works. First, let's assume that your students followed my advice and applied to about eight schools that you - and they - could afford, that had the accredited programs they needed, that were likely to accept them, and where students like them had high success rates in their chosen fields. By the first week of April next year, your students will have collected all their acceptances, and their financial aid award letters will arrive the next week. Let's assume further that your students were each accepted by about six of their schools, your financial aid award letters are in hand, and now comes the fun part, because you're about to analyze what will probably be six flavors of good news. Plug the final cost and aid data from all the schools into your final Apples-to-Apples College Cost Comparison form. Use the numbers from these colleges' financial aid award letters rather than their NPC's, while still not considering any loans as aid, and arrange the schools by the generosity of the aid offered your students with the best at the top and the worst at the bottom. This is when the variability in NPC results will become obvious. You will probably find that your results will break into a natural triage: with a couple schools better than expected, a couple schools worse than expected, and a couple right where you expected them to end up.
4. Smart U. - How Some Smart Schools Handle "Need-Aware" Admissions
5. Aren't U. - How Some Other Schools Handle "Need-Aware" Admissions
6. Understanding the Higher Ed Swamp
7. Crystal Ball I - Defect Disclosure in College Admissions and Financial Aid
8. Crystal Ball II - Politics and College Financial Aid
9. Crystal Ball III - The Natural Direction of College Financial Aid
10. Crystal Ball IV - A Tale of Two Lawsuits Finally, in my crystal ball I see storm clouds building on the horizon that might become major lawsuits. Case One - Aggrieved Parents and Their College Graduates vs. Their High Schools and Their School Districts To understand how this case might arise, let's focus on the college class that graduated just last year. That class should have been the first to receive the full benefit of Net Price Calculators, if their high schools had been doing their jobs. The college Class of '16 was the high school Class of '12, and those students began their freshman years in high school in September of 2008, one month after the Net Price Calculator requirement became law. If their high schools had been on the stick, those students and their parents would have received an introduction to Net Price Calculators that year with updates for the next two years, but that didn't happen. When the NPC's requirement was fully implemented in August of 2011, a month before their senior years began, if those families were made aware of NPC's even then, they could have still used NPC's in their college searches. But they weren't. Reading this site you'll see that the effective use of NPC's by lower and middle income families can save their students at least half of the loans that otherwise would have been required for their college educations. But first those families need to know about NPC's, and their high schools didn't tell them. In my opinion, the conduct of our high schools in this regard has been negligent, and that negligence continues to damage succeeding high school classes because our high schools still haven't made NPC's part of their counseling curricula. So, now all six high school classes from 2012 through 2017 have had no NPC training or indoctrination during their high school years at the majority of high schools, multiplying the damages suffered by students and their parents by an equal amount. I think that a series of lawsuits on this topic is guaranteed, both because the cure for negligence is in the courthouse, and because negligence never gets better with age. Case Two - Aggrieved Lower Income Students Who Were Victims of Loan Discrimination vs. Their Colleges When I was a law student I noticed that, beginning during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and gaining a great deal of traction after 1950, big cases that came before the United States Supreme Court seemed to be decided more on their smell than on a careful consideration of law and fact. Smelly cases lost, whatever the legal precedent might have been to the contrary, and Brown vs. Board of Education was a great example. I called my discovery the "American System of Law and Odor", and I have an undiscovered legal stinker to tell you about, but first I need to tell you how I found it. For 2016/2017 I changed my NPC research procedure in a way that made a data anomaly obvious. As always, and because they are just so easy to use, I began with the schools on my list that use the College Board's NPC program, first running all those schools using input data for my $60K sample family, and then running all of them for my $40K sample family. Then I changed the procedure I had used for the first three years of this site by analyzing and recording the results of the remaining schools at both income levels in a single sitting, and the anomaly I mentioned above became apparent right away. At about one third of the 126 schools I analyzed, Grant Aid for my lower income sample family did not seem high enough to cover that family's lower EFC. In fact, I was later able to calculate that, at almost half of the schools where the amount of Grant Aid was low enough to necessitate student or parent loans, expected loan amounts for my lower income sample family exceeded those for my middle income sample family by a significant margin. Those data are presented in my Compilation of Expected Annual Loan Differentials above and here:
and I explain my analytical method on my Examples & News page under the heading Mixed News. Obviously, for the financial aid policies and procedures of any college to necessitate a higher amount of student and parent loans for lower income families than for middle income families is morally and ethically wrong. But, from a legal perspective, those policies and procedures also stink to high heaven; and they are a ready invitation to lawsuits against the offending schools.
THE OFFICIAL ACG FINANCIAL AID FORECAST FOR 2017
As I gaze into my crystal ball, here's what I see happening in financial aid for the coming year:
This is a new page on ACG, and more text and analysis will be coming soon...
For a market to develop and for natural market forces to work requires knowledge of alternative sources and pricing, and Congress obviously intended to introduce natural market forces into the college search process with the Net Price Calculator requirement in 2008. The spread of knowledge about NPC's since then has been glacial; but, as Net Price Calculators become part of the knowledge base for American education consumers, I expect college cost/student loan market knowledge to increase dramatically. Students and parents will do their own NPC research based on their own finances, and they will naturally choose more affordable alternatives. This will result in lower costs-after-aid and a lower necessity for college indebtedness across that market each year until net costs reach a new stability at a lower level. There is some present evidence of this for, although college costs continue to go up, annual student loan volumes are falling.
And here again are a Word version of the ACG Apple-to-Apples template for your own college cost comparisons along with a Word version of our data input pages that you can use for your own family: