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TuitionFit is bringing price transparency to the college marketplace

After working in higher education for 25 years, Mark Salisbury grew frustrated as each incoming class struggled to understand how much they’d be paying for college.

“One of the things that became really clear was that families were really concerned about the cost of college, and at the same time were unable to shop by price,” said Salisbury. “There’s no way to start the college search process by saying ‘I have X number of dollars to spend on college, which schools should I look at.'”

So in January of 2019 he, along with Kimberly Dyer, launched TuitionFit, a venture that aggregates data on the actual price of college.

“We needed to figure out a way to get to a transparent marketplace and colleges were not going to take the lead on that for a whole bunch of reasons,” said Salisbury. “The public is frustrated enough, maybe they’d be willing to take a lead and crowdsource the date themselves. That’s how TuitionFit was born.”

All the pricing data on TuitionFit comes directly from financial aid award letters that college-bound students share with the company. TuitionFit then redacts all of the private information on the award letter and calculates the actual price that a student would see on their bill.

“You can do a lot of things with that data because every participant in the higher ed ecosystem — colleges, students, financial advisors, student loan providers — is operating without knowing the actual prices that students pay,” said Salisbury.

June 2018 study by New America found that “students and families confront a detrimental lack of information and transparency when making one of the biggest financial decisions of their lives: paying for college.” According to the study, out of 515 award letters from different institutions, more than one-third did not include any cost information to explain the financial aid offered. A majority of the award letters also included misleading and confusing jargon, according to the study, such as referring to loans as awards.

“Having the actual data gives you the leverage to be able to negotiate,” said Salisbury. “If you don’t have that information, you are far less able to effectively negotiate and get the best possible price. And that best possible price can easily be $10,000 over four years.”

Students who share a financial award letter with TuitionFit receive free access to all the company’s comparison data. Students who are one year earlier in the college search process can access a small portion of TuitionFit’s data for free or can buy access to more detailed information.

“The public deserves to have power in this interchange. And for this marketplace to be effective and efficient, and for there to be real innovation and improvement, it’s got to be transparent.”

TuitionFit is bringing price transparency to the college marketplace | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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