Few question the critical role that college affordability plays in promoting or inhibiting college access and success. Whether a student’s college choice is affordable can make the difference between whether the student attends or not, and whether he or she completes. Nonetheless, there is no common agreement on what “affordable” means. Whether something feels affordable can depend as much on personal preferences and emotional factors as on concrete prices and interest rates. It also depends on expectations of the future, desired benefits that may or may not come. Will I be inspired? Will I get a degree? Will I get a good‐paying job? Will I be happy in that job? Affordability is much easier to evaluate ex poste than ex ante, but even then it is difficult: What would have happened if I had taken a different path?
With the support and encouragement of the Lumina Foundation, we engaged in a “what if” exercise, detailing what would be involved in creating a college affordability calculator. We dubbed the result a “Considerator” because we realized it’s not possible to give someone the one right college answer using numbers and formulas. But it is possible – and important – to help people consider their options.
The complications we faced in building the Considerator are chronicled in a new publication, A College Considerator: Factors to weigh in contemplating college affordability. The report includes instructions for trying out the tool yourself, but remember: we produced it as a thought exercise so it is still in a developmental stage, where it may remain.