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Home BUSINESS The discount data that some universities will not publish

The discount data that some universities will not publish

By now, many college shoppers have gotten the message that not everyone pays list price. But what percentage gets any kind of discount, how much is it, and what kind of students get one?

One way to answer these questions, and many more about the overall college student experience, is to read the so-called Common data set. The CDS is a collection of information on admissions, demographics, financial aid, academics, and campus life. It is assembled each year by schools and submitted to US News & World Report, Peterson’s, and other entities that rank or rank colleges and universities.

Most institutions post their CDS somewhere on their websites. But at least a dozen didn’t at the start of this week. Over the past five days, I’ve reached out to ask why, and several of them, including Boston College and the University of Chicago, said they planned to release the CDS after all. Others, like Emerson College, were adamant about keeping it themselves. Albright College and High Point University did not respond to my inquiries at all.

If the CDS sounds familiar to you, it may be because it played a supporting role in the recent drama at Columbia University. A Columbia professor had called out the school over questionable data that led to a higher-than-guaranteed US News ranking. The schools mea culpa included publication of your own CDS

But if this is your first time hearing about the CDS, now is a good time to find out more. It’s a treasure trove of information for college shoppers, no matter what you’re willing or able to pay.

The CDS is a product of the uneasy relationship between US News college rankers and their supercharged rankers. Schools don’t have the capacity to spend months responding to different requests for data from the magazine, Peterson’s, the College Board and the like. Filling out a single giant form saves labor. Furthermore, it is in everyone’s interest to have standard definitions of the information being examined.

For college buyers, the CDS is a great read, even if the PDFs most schools publish aren’t as easy to read. If your son does not join, the form can tell you the percentage of students who are in fraternities and sororities. You can also find out how many people live off campus.

Instructor demographics are also a feature. Teachers who are members of minority groups may be rare in some schools, and the CDS details the figure at any given institution.

On the financial aid side, a quick read of the CDS can give families hope and concern in equal measure. While colleges, on their “cost of attendance” webpages, often list sky high pricesMany students in schools do not pay them.

Many people qualify for financial aid based on need, but most schools cannot meet the needs of all families. Section H2 of the CDS tells you how much of the need, on average, a school can meet. Families often end up filling any gaps with student or parent loans.

Parents whose children enter but find that a school meets even less of their needs than average can appeal the financial aid offer. And if the school’s average gap seems particularly worrisome before application season begins, you can talk to financial aid officials. Ask them how they assess their chances of getting a decent amount of help and ultimately being able to afford the place.

Then there are the higher income families. Many people with family incomes of, say, $300,000 will not qualify for much, if any, need-based help. Still, they may not have much college savings for their kids if they’ve been paying off their own student debt for decades, and they may not feel able to afford the full price of college or be unwilling to ask for it. borrowed a lot of money to do it.

That’s where Section H2A comes in. The technical description of what the schools are disclosing here is “non-need-based institutional grants or scholarships.” My translation is this: “Here is the number of discounts we give to people who have the ability to pay, at least according to our financial aid calculations, but lack the will to pay.”

This is the so-called merit aid that so many schools give these days. At many schools, almost everyone gets something, and the CDS lists the average amount of merit aid that people without financial need end up receiving.

The next step might be to use the form to find the number of people who receive need-based aid and then the number who receive merit without need. Add them up and subtract the sum from the total number of students, and you can calculate how many, or how many, people are paying full price.

Maybe you don’t want to be among a low number of people paying retail. And maybe some schools withhold CDS because they don’t want to make it too easy for you to know what that number is, or if you received a below-average merit aid offer.

The school representatives I spoke with this week did not say this themselves. In fact, the opposite may be true, at least according to his consultants.

“Most of our partners are trying to encourage families to understand that they will probably get something,” he said. Nathan Muellerdirector in EAB, which helps colleges recruit and retain students and determine what discounts to offer. “We’d rather they knew.”

Mr. Mueller’s colleague Madeleine Ryner echoed his endorsement of the CDS release and added a knowing nod to the mood in this market.

“Generation Z and their parents have much less trust in institutions, and unfortunately colleges and universities fall into that category,” he said. “Transparency sends a good faith message to the market that we want to be open about who we are and how we’re helping people financially.”

So kudos to the schools I contacted this week who seemed to see the wisdom in this way of thinking. Ohio Wesleyan University is working on completing a blank CDS webpage that currently has only some latin words in that. The new senior officials at La Salle University “hope” to start publishing the CDS “in the future.” Babson College sent a similar message.

The University of Chicago said in a statement that it had “recently” reviewed its approach and planned to publish the CDS “soon.” Boston College threw away its CDS On a website and thanked me for bringing the matter to his attention. Bard and Marist Colleges will also publish their forms soon, and the Stevens Institute of Technology intends to do so in 2023.

I was unable to bring Emerson in, although he said he would “certainly review our current practices.”

Bentley University was another roadblock earlier in the week, with its vice president for institutional research saying in an email that the school “just hadn’t found it useful for families.”

My experience is exactly the opposite. When I sit families down with a CDS and take two minutes to explain things to them, I often see their eyes pop when they finally understand who pays for what and under what circumstances. By the end of the week, Bentley had changed his mind and the public.

The CDS is not infallible. US News is done with Incorrect data Through the years. Good faith errors do occur.

Meanwhile, college counselors and start-up services of various kinds have put together their own collections of price data. college transitions data universe site it’s worth a look, like Big J Educational Consulting, Path2School, TuitionFit, MeritMore other Moore University data.

Collecting and classifying college prices and other data shouldn’t be so difficult or require so many entities to do so much analysis, but this is personal finance in the US, after all. There are many players in the market, a lot of opacity, and a good chance that big feelings get in the way of common sense.

Sadly aside, it’s actually worth a bit of effort, before you apply, to get a clear idea of ​​the price a school might charge you if you get in, and why you might. CDS can help you figure it out.

If you come across a school that does not publish it or has an old one online, it is within the bounds of courtesy to ask the institution to provide you with the latest version. And while you’re at it, ask that the data be published somewhere where we can all find it and benefit from it.

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