Phillip Levine is an economist and a professor at Wellesley College. Despite those facts, a few years ago, Levine realized he couldn't figure out how much he was going to have to pay for his kids to go to college.
Today, 54 colleges and universities use Levine's site, and as of Monday morning, so do all four UMass undergraduate campuses.
UMass is the first multi-campus public university to participate in MyinTuition, and by doing so, it hopes to make it easier for students, parents and anyone else interested to find out the exact cost of attendance.
"Being able to include UMass is a huge advantage," Levine says. "The issue of providing better information of what college really costs is just as much an issue at public universities as it is at private universities, even given the vast differences in sticker prices."
The sticker price is not the real cost, he points out, as financial aid has to be factored in as well.
"What's important is what you actually have to pay," Levine says.
It's not just students and parents who need to understand the difference between the sticker price and the real price of college, though, but lawmakers too, says Levine.
"What the tool gives you insight into is that the university meets 90% of demonstrated student need through financial aid," says Jeff Cournoyer, vice president of communications for UMass. "This, maybe for the first time, for anybody who wants to go on and play with it, gives you some insight into the what the breakdown is of student and family contribution and the other sources of aid."
The calculator comes up with some interesting results. Depending on how much a family makes, it can be cheaper to attend private college than it is to attend UMass.
For example, imagine a good student who lives in Massachusetts. She has a 4.0 GPA and a 1437 combined SAT score. She has no siblings in college and lives with both parents. Her family makes $77,385 a year — the median household income — has $10,000 in the bank, another $250,000 in a retirement account and no other savings besides their $400,000 home, on which they have a $250,000 mortgage. Using the calculator, the student can expect to pay $19,200 a year to attend UMass Amherst.
At Wellesley she would pay $13,500.
But if her family makes twice the median household income, has a home worth $800,000 with a mortgage of $500,000, and has $20,000 in the bank and retirement accounts worth $500,000, she would pay $36,500 at Wellesley — and $27,700 to attend UMass Amherst.
And now, students and their parents can make that comparison easily.
Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect sum for what the median income student would pay to attend Wellesley. We regret the error.
This article was originally published on May 20, 2019.
This segment aired on May 20, 2019.