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Some US Colleges Fail to Present Real Costs for Students

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Understanding the cost of attending a college or university in the United States is not always easy.

All colleges and universities in the U.S. are able to set their own tuition and housing prices, as well as charge other program fees.

A student may be able to find these costs listed on a school's website or in a college advice book. But such estimates usually do not include other costs related to higher education, such as books and supplies, transportation and cost of living.

That is why the U.S. Congress passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which created new rules for how schools present this information, in 2008.

Part of this law requires all colleges and universities that accept students' federal financial aid to report on the total cost of their programs. The Department of Education collects data from the schools on average tuition payments as well as averages of other hidden costs. The agency also collects data on scholarships and other forms of aid the schools give to students to help reduce those costs.

Another requirement is that the schools must have a tool on their websites that provides specific estimates of all costs for students. This tool is meant to gather information about an individual's financial situation and calculate how much aid the school might offer them. The tool then presents the student with a price estimate that takes that aid into consideration. The final result is known as the net price.

However, a new study suggests that many schools are not fully meeting the law's requirements for these net price calculators. And experts wo