TuitionFit, a new entry among college search and financial aid Web sites, launched on January 1 with a simple concept: data sharing among accepted students may lower college costs.

The site invites accepted students to share data from their award letters under anonymity. It helps them compare their awards with other accepted students who were admitted to the same college. The site is relatively easy to use and will become more useful as more students register and share information.

TuitionFit does not charge students and parents. Colleges that are seeking students will pay for access to the student database. Admissions offices will have the opportunity to confidentially approach prospective students who have been admitted to other schools, but might not have deposited, to try to offer them a better price .

What is the purpose behind TuitionFit?

“TuitionFit offers a simple proposition,” said its CEO Mark Salisbury, when I spoke with him by phone. “You cannot focus on the ‘value’ of a college education without knowing if you have gotten your best price. When students and parents have more information, they can be more savvy shoppers. The public acts as a counterweight on college costs. Prices might actually come down when greater access to information results in a more efficient market.”

Salisbury, a former assistant dean and Director of Institutional Research at Augustana College (IL) who holds a PhD in Education Policy and Leadership Studies from the University of Iowa, is confident that participating colleges will make extensive use of TuitionFit as more and more students share their data. “Within the Midwest hundreds of applicants are learning not to accept acceptances early. This helps a lot of schools that are in a ‘muddy middle’ but can offer very good prices, because they need to fill their class.”

To get a better understanding of a less familiar market, I looked up the deadlines for Iowa’s flagship public universities.

  • One flagship, the University of Iowa takes freshman applications up to May 1.
  • The other, Iowa State University, works on rolling admissions, accepting ACT or SAT scores as late as July 15 for the fall class, though the priority date is March 1.

Then I looked up liberal arts colleges that might also consider these students, should they choose to wait on their deposit.

  • Cornell College (IA) takes applications after February 1 on a space-available basis and will send decisions after May 1
  • Illinois College, located in Central Illinois, takes applications under rolling admissions
  • Luther College (IA) takes applications under rolling admissions.
  • Principia College, located in Western Illinois, takes applications up to July 1.

All four liberal arts colleges do a better job at graduating their freshmen than either of Iowa’s flagship state universities. A student who is from Iowa or Illinois who might be interested in a liberal arts major could consider overtures from these schools before they deposit at the state university.

It is quite possible that students who reside in other states where application and deposit deadlines run later for public and private schools would also benefit if they use TuitionFit. So might transfer students who may be approached by many schools that take applications and deposits through the summer.

What might be the future value of Tuition Fit after this admissions cycle?

TuitionFit’s relevance grows as the site’s student population grows. The site’s owners intend to provide historical records of awards much like CollegeData, an admissions site, does for admissions decisions. Students who begin their applications in the fall of their senior year may see how other students in similar academic, financial and geographic situations fared with their awards.  They might not bother to submit applications to schools that their family is not likely to afford.

TuitionFit has the promise to be a difference maker for many students and families as long it can maintain effective social media campaigns to gather as much award letter data as possible, and encourage users to check back to the site as more data is collected. “In most cases students need to know only one other price, besides their own” Salisbury said. The site’s owners may also need to become engaged in the social media contacts initiated by the subscribing colleges. They will need to make sure that their messages do not mislead students and parents on value and price.

Need help in developing or narrowing your college lists? Contact me at stuart@educatedquest.com or call me at 609-406-0062.

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