Soon, families might have a slightly better idea what they might actually pay to attend college.

According to an article by Caralee Adams in Education Week:

Yesterday, financial aid administrators, gathered at their annual conference in Denver, talked about a new federal law requiring institutions to provide a net price calculator on their websites. The Higher Education Opportunity Act was signed into law in 2008 and includes many new reporting and disclosure requirements. Schools that participate in Title IV student aid have until October 2011 to comply.

Schools can either use the Department of Education’s price calculator template or develop their own. The trouble is that the department’s template is sort of crappy. The template is far too generic to provide families with a true picture of what they’re likely to pay. One company,, is now selling its own cost calculator service to various American colleges and universities in preparation for the 2011 deadline.

The Department of Education should take note. If the template provided is so bad that colleges are forced to pay a private vendor to comply with the 2008 law, fix the template.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer