College Board reports, such as Trends in College Pricing, focus on the net price of attending college and the financial advantages of a higher education after graduation. However, many families have a shorter time span in mind when making a college choice; they focus on the net price and a variety of factors they value in a college education. College counselors encourage this kind of comparative evaluation. Thus, describing the price and value of a liberal arts education is a critical question for the higher education community generally and for college choice specifically.
Over the next few years, the use of Net Price Calculators (NPC) is likely to standardize the questions families ask and the answers institutions provide about the price of attending a specific school. The information from a NPC is particularly germane to families that are considering which schools they can afford. But the value they receive for each dollar is equally germane both to full-pay students and to students receiving financial aid. The ratio of price to value is the “formal” (albeit theoretical) calculation for each family considering where to apply to college.
Relevant data are publicly available from a variety of sources such as Peterson’s Guide, America’s Best Colleges, and the U.S. Department of Education websites. With this information families and college counselors might calculate indices and ratios and make decisions that avoid narrow choices, shun uni-dimensional college rankings, and evade the “prestige game” altogether.
This procedure was first described in Planning for College: A Consumer Approach to the College Marketplace, but the data there were limited to colleges and universities in the state of Massachusetts. The method is equally relevant to selection among national research universities or any other set of colleges and universities.