In the fall of 2010, as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), the federal government required every college and university to post net price calculators (NPCs) on their websites. The goal of the law was to provide financial aid and cost estimates to students and parents during their college search. Many admissions and financial aid directors expressed wariness of the new regulation for a simple and logical reason: the federal NPC would show cost of attendance figures with no context or explanation of the value of the educational experience at an institution. For this reason, many campus directors came to us to create a customizable NPC that could frame the cost conversations around the estimated financial aid awards students and parents were seeing.
Since then, third-party NPCs and homegrown calculators have become versatile campus marketing and student recruitment tools. Over that time period, I have seen a shift in ownership of NPCs on campus. Initially financial aid directors were tasked with updating and maintaining the information displayed on an institution’s NPC. Today, admissions and marketing staff have become more involved with NPC strategy, seeing the recruitment potential of these tools and trying to maximize the impact the cost figures and text within the NPC can have on potential students. The recruitment potential is so great that admissions departments are using various versions of NPCs to strategically recruit specific subsets and cohorts of their inquiry pool. These various NPC versions are being used to communicate and more accurately estimate awards for military and veteran students, transfer students, international students, and others.
Regardless of the audience, there are key elements every NPC should possess to push students through the enrollment funnel. These elements and the following strategies can increase the communication between a prospective student using an NPC and your institution.