The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has added to its College Affordability and Transparency Center, highlighting colleges and universities with the highest and lowest tuition and net price, and those schools where costs are rising the fastest. In addition, ED is releasing full lists so consumers can see how much a specific school costs in comparison to similar institutions.

“We want to arm students and parents with the information they need to make smart educational choices,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “Students need to know up front how much college will actually cost them instead of waiting to find out when the first student loan bill arrives. These lists are a major step forward in unraveling the mystery of higher education pricing.”

These lists are required by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 and released as part of the Obama administration’s continuing effort to make the costs of college more transparent. ED is also finalizing a model “financial aid shopping sheet,” which it is calling for institutions to adopt voluntarily to give students easy-to-understand information about their financial aid packages. Earlier this year, President Obama called for a College Scorecard for all degree-granting institutions, designed to provide essential information about college costs, graduation rates, and potential earnings.

Last year, ED published its first set of College Affordability and Transparency Lists. Three lists focus on tuition and fees, and three others look at the institution’s average net price, which is the average price of attendance that is paid by full-time, first-time students after grants and scholarships are taken into account. Those colleges and universities where prices are rising the fastest will report why costs have gone up and how the institution will address rising prices, and ED will summarize these reports into a document that it will post online. There are 1,878 institutions included in these lists, and schools are allowed to appear on more than one of the lists.

This year, in response to several requests from consumers for more comparison data, ED is also providing tuition and net price information for all institutions, broken out by sector to allow students to compare costs at similar types of schools. A total of 4,165 institutions are included on the combined lists:

• Highest tuition and fees (top 5 percent)

• Highest average net price (top 5 percent)

• Lowest tuition and fees (bottom 10 percent)

• Lowest average net price (bottom 10 percent)

• Highest percentage increases in tuition and fees (top 5 percent)

• Highest percentage increases in average net price (top 5 percent)

• All title IV institutions

Sectors include 4-year public, 4-year private nonprofit, 4-year private for-profit, 2-year public, 2-year private nonprofit, 2-year private for-profit, less-than-2-year public, less-than-2-year private nonprofit, and less than-2-year private for-profit.

Institutions report data on their tuition and fees and net price annually through ED’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Additional updated data on individual schools are available on ED’s College Navigator site.

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Jeff Festa