Tulane declines participation in College Abacus

Canela López, Associate News Editor

Tulane University has been blocking the efforts of College Abacus to provide prospective students and their families with a side-by-side comparison of different colleges’ financial aid packages.

In an effort to combat the rising cost of college and better inform students about which colleges will give them the most aid, the White House and U.S. Department of Education created College Scorecard, a website that gives access to students about college-by-college graduation rates, alumni earnings, percentage of students who take out federal loans to pay for college and average loan repayment rates. A beta-partner of the site is College Abacus.

College Abacus collects data from college sites through their net price calculator.

The net price calculator offered on certain college sites allows students to predict what kind of financial aid they may receive from a university by inputting financial information, such as parent income and assets.

Less than 5 percent of all colleges have refused to give access of their net price calculator to College Abacus. According to College Abacus Chief Executive and Co-Founder Abigail Seldin, Tulane is in that minority alongside schools like Harvard University and California Institute of Technology. Tulane has been blocking access to their net price calculator for three years.

“Every U.S college and university is required by federal law to publish a net price calculator on its website,” Seldin said. “By blocking College Abacus, Tulane is making it harder for prospective students to compare their projected financial aid options to those of other colleges.”

Tulane offers a net price calculator on its admissions webpage. Cegment, the company that runs Tulane’s net price calculator, has refused to let College Abacus and Pell Abacus, a partner tool to College Abacus specifically designed for low-income students likely to be eligible for Pell Grants, access the university’s net price calculator.

According to Mike Strecker, Tulane’s executive director of public relations, the reason has to do with security rather concealing information.

“Tulane seeks to provide students and families with accurate information and thus, per U.S. Department of Education guidelines, we offer a robust net price calculator that allows the university — instead of College Abacus — to retain full control of the content and context of the information provided,” Strecker said. “Third-party advisors have recommended against participating with such entities as College Abacus.”

While Strecker said he could not clarify the identity of the third-party advisors, Seldin said Cegment specifically was blocking College Abacus.

The information that College Abacus is asking for is available publicly through the Tulane net price calculator. The only difference is that College Abacus would compare the information side by side to other institutions, similar to what Kayak or Expedia does for airline tickets.

“The difference is that students who calculate their net price using College Abacus can then easily compare their projected costs across multiple different colleges at one time in one place in an apples-to-apples format,” Seldin said.

Tulane freshman Brianna Lowe used College Abacus in her college search and said that she was frustrated that Tulane’s net price calculator was separate from the program.

“I’m a first-generation college student and looking for colleges was stressful enough, let alone having to input different economic factors for different [net price] calculators,” Lowe said. “I feel like it’s weird that Tulane wouldn’t want to be included in something that would make it easier for their future students.”

For Seldin, founding College Abacus meant making information about college as accessible as possible to students and families in order to help them make the “hardest decision” of their lives.

“All we ask is that they allow College Abacus to access their net price calculators so that students using the tool can easily view their tuition prices in the context of other colleges,” Seldin said. “Families deserve access to all the tools and information necessary for weighing their options and making informed decisions.”