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.
A 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.”