Earlier this month, we released a new version of our Ruffalo Noel Levitz TrueCost Calculator™. Since its inception, over 6 million users have used this net price calculator (NPC) to estimate the affordability of a college or university, and we’ve “listened to their voices” to further develop our calculator to make it even more effective.
What did the voices tell us? There are five broad areas we identified as critical for engaging prospective student populations: 1) Your calculator must be placed in the right area of your website to maximize usage, 2) empower users to qualify affordability as easily and quickly as possible, 3) communicate with students in the same way they access your site, 4) give them input options, and 5) promptly follow up with families who have follow-up questions regarding their results.
- Location, location, location
Placement of your NPC is critically important to maximize usage. Far too often campuses bury their calculators, making it difficult for students to understand the cost of attending your institution. Results from our annual Student Satisfaction-Priorities Report indicate that cost and financing are two of the top five reasons students enroll on college campuses. If cost is a key factor for enrolling, then what are you doing to address this issue? Our TrueCost Calculator version 2.0 can highlight your affordability anywhere on your website but, more importantly, building marketing messages around and within a calculator should be a high priority. It’s not the calculator results that are paramount, but rather, helping students understand what they are getting for the cost. What are your key points of distinction (POD) and how are you driving home those messages to your audience? Your NPC should be one of your entryways for introducing PODs.
- “Give the people what they want!”
If you offer merit scholarships, your calculator should allow students the opportunity to determine how much scholarship money they may be eligible for, before they complete the entire calculator. Our data show that the vast majority of our users completed the first part of our calculator, which generally showcases institutional merit aid. Students and parents can quickly find out how much merit aid they may qualify for if your institutional aid is based on academic metrics such as high school grade point average, class rank, standardized exams, portfolios, etc., or perhaps a combination of a number of factors. Help students understand where they will fall in your structure. If your campus doesn’t “lead” with scholarships, providing students and families with strong POD messaging can again become another key starting point for your NPC.
- Provide access their way
Today’s parents and students are accessing your college website in a multitude of ways, and your site needs to be responsive to understand how they are accessing your site and to provide the user with the best experience possible. Whether a family is exploring your website together on the family computer, or separately on mobile devices, they should have a high-quality NPC experience. Our TrueCost Calculator 2.0 provides access to students and families any way they want to access your website. Our 2015 E-Expectations Report indicates that almost 70 percent of students have viewed a college website on a mobile device. Your calculator should be optimized to provide them with the same high-quality experience no matter how they are accessing your website.
- Do you know your EFC?
We have redesigned the TrueCost Calculator 2.0 to allow users to input either a known expected family contribution (EFC) or, as in the past, a fairly quick yet accurate script to calculate a student’s EFC. Our goal is to provide the end user with options. If they know their EFC and want to move quickly through the calculator, the family can bypass many of the questions to understand the amount of aid they will be eligible for from the campus. If the student or family doesn’t know their EFC, our calculator will calculate it. A family can use projected income information or they can use actual tax information. From the time a student begins our calculator, they can complete the entire survey in just minutes. Remember, we designed TrueCost Calculator as a top-of-the-stream tool to address cost and affordability quickly and easily, to serve today’s on the go families.
- Follow up with the masses
Last but not least, our TrueCost Calculator 2.0 provides all students with the ability to “raise their hand” for additional information by simply clicking or tapping a link. As we know, college financing is complex and family circumstances are unique. When students need additional assistance, they are able to alert the campus. Our seamless administrative portal shares this information as well as the times the calculator was accessed, how many times the calculator is being used each month, as well as information about the students who access the survey.