Financial Tools of the Future
The Student Aid Index (SAI) and Net Price Calculators (NPCs) are two different tools used to help estimate the cost of attending college.
The SAI is a measure of the cost of higher education relative to the average household income of college-aged students. It’s currently being adapted to replace the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) on the FAFSA form and will go into effect for the 2023-24 academic year.
An NPC covers another element of college finance. It generates an estimate of what a particular student may pay for college based on their unique financial situation, including financial aid in some cases. NPCs have been government mandated since 2011, which means universities are required to include them on their websites.
Although these two tools are distinct, they intersect in important ways that can have a significant impact on the college-going experience for students, as well as impact a university’s approach to admissions and enrollment.
SAI Provides a Snapshot for Families & Students
The SAI is based on the relationship between college costs, student aid, and average income. Specifically, it is the ratio of total college costs to the average household income of college-aged students. The Student Aid Index provides an overall view of the cost of attending college based on family finances and the average income of current and prospective students at a school.
The SAI is one of the latest changes to the FAFSA. It was developed by the Department of Education to replace the form’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculation. EFC currently serves as a way to predict what families will be able to contribute to their child’s higher education costs. However, EFC has proved confusing and inaccurate for many families, which is why the Department of Education created the SAI.
The SAI will change how that EFC number is calculated, which should ideally provide a more accurate and feasible estimate for parents. Overall, the SAI is useful for students and their families who want to understand how college costs compare to their current income and how much they may need to budget in order to afford college. This, in turn, helps identify accurate financial aid estimates.
NPCs Allow Universities to Target & Empower Students
An NPC, on the other hand, is designed to help students and their families understand what they may be expected to pay for college based on their individual circumstances. An NPC uses information like family size, income, and assets to provide an estimate of what a particular student may pay for higher education.
An exceptional NPC offers accuracy and an easy-to-navigate interface and does more than check the box for compliance. Many universities rely on third-party companies to customize NPCs for their schools, including institutional grants, scholarships, and work-study programs.
NPCs are an important tool for college-bound students, as they provide an estimate of out-of-pocket costs that cannot be gleaned from the Student Aid Index. But they’re also an incredible tool for college enrollment staff, as they offer data-driven snapshots of prospective student habits and interests.
Adapting the SAI for NPCs: A Match Made in Heaven
The intersection of the SAI and NPCs is an important one. While the SAI provides an overall view of college costs relative to the average income of college-aged students, an NPC can provide a more personalized view of what a particular student may be expected to pay for college.
This intersection is important in that it can help students and their families understand the total cost of college and the out-of-pocket costs they may need to budget for. And for admissions staff and financial aid officers, there’s nothing more important than being able to hand prospective students transparent financial information — it helps them to increase applications and enrollment.
The simpler those financial breakdowns are, the more empowered students and families feel when it’s time to apply to college.
Viewed in this way, the SAI and NPCs work together to help students and their families identify potential sources of financial aid and scholarships that may be available to them. For example, if a student's estimated out-of-pocket costs based on their NPC are too high, they can use the SAI to identify colleges with more generous financial aid packages. Similarly, if a student's estimated out-of-pocket costs based on their NPC are lower than expected, they can use the Student Aid Index to explore potential scholarship opportunities.
Overall, the intersection of SAI and NPCs can have a significant impact on the college-going experience for students and their families. Both allow financial aid officers and admissions staff to engage more deeply with prospective students—especially when it comes to finances.