#36 How to know if a college is giving their best price Transcript



Mark Salisbury  00:00

Make sure that you have a list of schools that if you get into the ones you’ve applied to, then the price tag is going to be in your ballpark. So you can literally consider all the ones you got into like, that’s the thing that is crazy when somebody gets into 10 schools and can only consider one or two of them, right, that’s a really not a great feeling. But if you can consider all nine of the ones you got into you feel like Yeah, any of these will work. Now I can really think about it, I’m in charge, I have agency, I have power as a consumer. And you can then talk to the schools that you really like in there and tell them you’ve got competing offers, and see what happens, because oftentimes, that’s the leverage, you need to get your price to come down a little bit more.


Lisa Marker Robbins  00:43

The cost of college increased 31.4%, from 2010 to 2020. As a mom currently paying for college for one of my kids, I feel that as a professional counselor, and coach, I also know most of the students I work with, don’t pay sticker price for college. Just as you probably didn’t pay the sticker price for the last car you purchase. Discounts abound. The truth is only one in 10. Freshmen pay the advertised price at a university. Mark Saulsbury is my guest today. And he delivers knowledge on college pricing that puts the power in your hands. I’m Lisa marker Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation. Well, it is my pleasure to welcome Mark Salsbury from tuition fit to the podcast, after literally decades in many different roles in higher ed starting out as a athletic coach, all the way up to helping run universities. He wears a very different hat now. And he’s here to not help higher ed but to help families who are the beneficiaries of his work. And I think this is a fantastic service that he’s offering. And I want to learn all about what he’s learned from doing this that can help our families on the affordability side of college in my college Facebook community of parents, one of the top concerns is always paying for college. Mark, welcome to the podcast, please.


Mark Salisbury  02:32

It’s a real treat to be here.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:33

Thanks for making time. Let’s just start with tuition fit. What is it? In all


Mark Salisbury  02:39

my career in higher ed? One thing that just drove me bananas was, why is it that families can’t find out what their price would be for their student at any time in the process at any school. And even to say, we don’t know what schools are looking at yet. We just know we can’t pay more than x. So show us the schools that would charge us less than that. And then we’ll go there. We’ll dig we can dig farther, but just give us that. So our first. And if that sounds familiar, it’s sort of like how we shop browse the car and everything else. Right. All right. And it just drove me bananas that this was not the way we were doing things in higher ed. And the tipping point for me was I’d seen it just go crazy, over the my decades working in colleges, universities, and then I was working with a whole bunch of small colleges. And I was seeing them strangling themselves because they had these crazy eyes sticker prices. Nobody paid the sticker price in 30 years. And they’re saying yeah, we can’t get students to look at us because our sticker price is so high, but everybody’s paying 50% offer more. And the students we are perfect for won’t look at us because they can’t. And when. So it’s killing the families, it’s killing a whole bunch of good colleges, like this is bananas. So figuring out pretty quickly that the only way to fix that is if we as a public build our own dataset, and do it in a way that protects everybody’s anonymity anonymizes, the award letters so that everybody’s comfortable with crowdsourcing a dataset, and then organizing that data the same way that colleges are in the pricing range, their price ranges, we’ll just have to start it ourselves because nobody else is going to do it. So that was the origin story of tuition fed a couple of years ago and we’ve been going ever since and we’ve got 20 Some 1000 prices in our dataset now. And it’s kind of amazing how it’s grown, even though I’m not gonna lie. It’s hard work.


Lisa Marker Robbins  04:48

Oh, I can only imagine. So you saw that we had hurting families are confused and overwhelmed families like how do I get any clarity on what it really caused pay for College and I know what my budget is, although I made a lot of them that haven’t put in the work to find out the budget. So step number one, let’s get our budget. Right.


Mark Salisbury  05:08

Absolutely. That is a big issue. Yes.


Lisa Marker Robbins  05:11

I mean, I’m always saying like freshman, sophomore year, parents figure out what the budget is, because the worst thing in the world is when your kid falls in love with the school that ultimately, even if they’re admissible, you’re not going to be able to afford right. So that’s like, I mean, you know, I’ve raised teenagers, there’s lots of crying and gnashing of teeth and nagging. Absolutely. So you don’t want to you don’t want to like borrow trouble, like, just figure out the budget, you’re gonna save yourself a lot. So they figure out the budget, and then you had these hurting colleges. And we both have a heart for both. We love higher ed. So essentially, what you’ve done is you’ve put together a database that families can access that tells them and I’m gonna borrow your word that I’ve heard you use elsewhere is the Kelley Blue Book price of college for these institutions is essentially the outcome that you now have.


Mark Salisbury  06:07

Absolutely, it’s Kelley Blue Book is the best analogy I can come up with, because it’s when people go to a source like that, what they’re trying to do is just get a sense of how does the offer I’ve got compared to what’s going on in the rest of the marketplace, I just want to know that I’m not gonna get screwed, right? I just want to know that I’m getting a fair price. And everybody’s version affairs is different. But it feels a lot better as a consumer when you know that stuff. Right now, we have no way for that to happen. So tuition fit came along and said, Let’s make it possible for people to share the financial aid award letters that they get when they get them. we anonymize everything we give the user the last word in approving the anonymized version. So everybody feels comfortable with this. And then as a free exchange, when you share your stuff, then you get to see what other students like yours have been offered from whatever schools they applied to. So you log now in tuition, oftentimes students will see hundreds of offers from other schools, sometimes the same school they applied to sometimes similar schools. Now you can make a better assessment of value.


Lisa Marker Robbins  07:18

So as a family, because that’s who our listeners are, a family would go to the tuition fit.org website, and they would upload their award letter, you’re going to redact all of any kind of personal information. I mean, all you’re really interested in as the students unweighted GPA, but I love that families are always quoting way to GPA. And you and I know from a higher ed perspective, a Yeah, nobody’s interested in your weighted GPA. It is your unweighted GPA. And quite frankly, at many colleges is even just that the core courses of English math, science, social studies, foreign language, computer science, all the other fluff is out. So you want unweighted GPA, test scores for kids who are testing and then the name of the college with the award letter amounts that they’re getting for merit need any of that, is that correct?


Mark Salisbury  08:16

And we need them to share the EFC okay, they got whatever they came out with it EFC number


Lisa Marker Robbins  08:25

doesn’t have to be the official EFC like do they need to complete the FAFSA, that’s the one that you want.


Mark Salisbury  08:30

So if they completed the FAFSA, obviously, they get an EFC. If they’ve completed a FAFSA estimator, the EFC is going to be close. Okay, if they haven’t completed the FAFSA, they can plug in an EFC. That’s essentially what would be what happens as a college if they don’t see a FAFSA, right? So the college would see that you didn’t fill out the FAFSA, they’re going to assume that your EFC is higher than the cost and time. So just plug in a 90,000 EFC just so that we can show apples to apples comparison, right? Because the way that colleges organize their prices is both by the glory and unweighted GPA, and then test score if you got one. So you need to have both of those. And you want to share the accurate numbers because you want to see prices that other students got, like, you don’t care about what other people got that are unlike you, because you don’t have a shot at that. Right.


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:24

Alright, so right now at the time that we’re recording this, which we’re gonna take this live I think at the end of September, that we’re in August, kids are seniors are just writing those essays filling out those applications. So move ahead as those acceptances and award letters come in over the school year, essentially when they’re going to pull the trigger on a college and March or April. They’re able to sit back and say like, here are all my award letters. Did I get a good offer here or do I even have room for to try to appeal or ask for more money?


Mark Salisbury  09:58

We’ve seen this a especially this last year, and this is a crazy high number to sort of put out there, but it’s true and okay, whatever. Yeah, every single family that reached out to me that asked me like, how does this look we should we, they went ahead and appealed every single family got more money from the school, but from one of the schools that that the school that they want, I think was just like nuts. And it was just a function of, they had the information to see that their offer was probably not as strong as it could be. And they also had the information that I told them, which was colleges build wiggle room into their pricing model, they do. And then they finally had some sort of competitive offer where they had an offer from another school that was within their ballpark. So they could say the school they really wanted to go to having a hard time justifying the price difference here helped me out just that leverage. And that knowledge, yeah, it’s everything for him. And you know, over four years, I don’t know, $8,000, over four years, that’s a lot of money for a family. For a college. That’s not


Lisa Marker Robbins  11:03

I heard this of this family who had not had a budget, or maybe they had a budget but didn’t stick to their budget. And they thought about kids one being and they didn’t think about the two year overlap that their kids were going to have. And I saw them post in a Facebook group that they’re now suspending vacations for a couple years, till the overlaps over because it’s out of budget is costing them too much. And so $8,000 of pay for a nice vacation for a family of four right right now, or however you choose to spend that right.


Mark Salisbury  11:36

One thing that tuition fit also does that is really useful for families right now, whether they’re sitting there in the seniors just starting senior year, or even juniors that are just starting to sort of thinking about their college list once the data comes into tuition, but you’ve got this real time data set of very current pricing data across all kinds of different student types. And that data is coming in from seniors in that first quarter, first six months, first five months of the year, right. But now that datasets here. So when a family has a student who’s a senior now in August and September or a junior, even they can go to tuition fit, they can create an account just by doing an EFC estimator. They know what their unweighted GPA is now, yep, they can create account and for free, they can see a list of the schools that we have in our dataset that they can filter by price range.


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:36

Obviously, your request is for families who have seniors who have gotten acceptances and award letters, please give us those we’re going to redact them, we’re going to make sure that you’re comfortable to the level that we redacted before we add it to our data set. But then the junior in younger families who are still building out that college list or quite frankly, there are senior families right now. Yes, that are still doing it. Even though I begged them to have that college list finished before the senior year starts, they’re able to go, Okay, we know this is our budget. And oh, gosh, we shouldn’t maybe even apply here, because I’m doing exactly as Lisa was just talking about, let my kid fall in love with the school that ultimately is gonna get us into either financial trouble. Or we just simply are going to have to say no and break our kid’s heart. So they don’t have to have an award letter to get started with you.


Mark Salisbury  13:32

Absolutely not like the whole point was, if you build this data set, then it really becomes useful at two different distinct points. Yeah, love that early to make sure that you have a list of schools that if you get into the ones you applied to, then the price tag is going to be in your ballpark. So you can literally consider all the ones you got into like that’s the thing that is crazy when somebody gets into 10 schools and can only consider one or two of them. Right? That’s really not a great feeling. But if you can consider all nine of the ones you got into one, you feel like Yeah, any of these will work now I can really think about it. I’m in charge, I have agency I have power as a consumer. And you can then talk to the schools that you really like in there and tell them you’ve got competing offers and see what happens because oftentimes, that’s the leverage you need to get your price to come down a little bit more.


Lisa Marker Robbins  14:29

You know what maybe if you do the work on the front end, and you build a really healthy college list, which I always say that healthy college list is an academic fit Can I get in a social fit is my kid gonna like it, the financial fit and then the you know, my heart, the college major and career fit which very much dovetails with the cost base because if you know if you don’t start with college if you don’t at least have that early on in the formula. You might spend a lot of extra time in college like spending a lot more money figuring it out. But if you do the work with intention while your kids still in high school, and before they’re applying, you might have a super healthy list. And then you might even have schools where you don’t need to negotiate. Come March, April, or, you know, we you and I both know negotiates the F word in financial aid offices, you don’t need to appeal. But because you’re gonna look at this and go like, Oh, my goodness, we have a fantastic offer. So we don’t even need to appeal, we just go with it. The whole


Mark Salisbury  15:32

point of price transparency, why I think it’s so important is because this college search process should be an experience for students where as you go through it, it’s an experience of exciting discovery, peeling back layers and learning about who you are, and a family coming together through this process. When price transparency doesn’t happen. In the absence of that clarity, families experience all sorts of unknowns, uncertainty, and surprise, that sets the table for all kinds of impulsive emotional decision making that creates the mess that then we hear about when a family won’t isn’t even talking to each other when they get to January. Yeah. Or has the surprises that come March, and then they borrow far more than they know they should, or would have a year ago, but now they’re over a barrel and under the gun and they got to do something and so they do something that they wouldn’t normally do. We prevent all that if you’ve got real price transparency. That’s how we do it intuition.


Lisa Marker Robbins  16:41

I was I recently had I don’t know if you know, of this woman, but Dr. Abby Sussman on the podcast. She’s a professor at the University of Chicago. Yep. He’s in the marketing department. But she her research has long been the intersection of psychology, economics and finance, right? Yeah, we just dropped that episode, right, as you and I are recording, but Abby talked in there about trying not to make decisions when we’re in a hot state, right? How the emotions come into it. So you’re providing them a tool that if used early on in the process, and getting access to that to start building out a college list that has that financial fit, is going to prevent hot state decision making, where not a lot goes right when you’re making decisions in a hot state.


Mark Salisbury  17:36

Absolutely. And it’s Abby stuff is great. And it’s so true. And the college system, the marketplace, the billions of dollars that the colleges spend, as the folks selling something, yeah, they’re trying to make it a thing where you make an emotional decision.


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:57

100% That’s what


Mark Salisbury  17:59

the and it’s not like, they’re bad people like don’t get me wrong, they’re selling something. And they know how to market stuff, and they know how to sell it to get you to pull the trigger to buy something and pay more for it than you probably wanted to, or need to,


Lisa Marker Robbins  18:15

we can never forget that they are a business, honey paying bodies and seats, and you’re a consumer. So let’s be a wise consumer,


Mark Salisbury  18:24

right. And the consumer is always trying to get the best value. And that’s a very different goal. And so without price transparency, you have this thing called information asymmetry where the seller knows way more than the buyer and other University of Chicago faculty. I’ve done a lot of research on this the Freakonomics folks. And every time you see that in a marketplace, prices are higher than they should be because people are making emotional decisions, and buying in a cloud instead of buying in a steady state.



Wow, I absolutely adore what you’re doing.


Lisa Marker Robbins  18:59

I’m excited that it has really gotten traction. I remember two, three years back when I heard that you’re going to do this, and I hadn’t met you back then. And I thought people are gonna give him their award letters. And they are, I love it. And we do have some listeners on who are going to be on the high school side, you know, a school counselor, a college counselor, an independent counselor, and you also work with them as well, right?


Mark Salisbury  19:28

Absolutely. We have something called the tuition fit collaborative, which is a coalition of independent college search professionals, high school counselors, college access organizations, who see the need for price transparency and recognize them and we’re gonna get there as if we build it ourselves. We all have to do all joined up together and it’s free to be a part of the collaborative to make this dataset happen.


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:53

And frankly, it’s giving them another tool in their toolbox to help them serve better because I mean, let’s be real. None of us went into education to become millionaires. We’re here because we want to serve teens and their families. That’s right. Well, Mark, I know tuition fit.org We’re gonna have that in the show notes. Any other ways that you want to mention that our listeners can connect? Use your tools, keep in touch,


Mark Salisbury  20:20

they can absolutely come to the website, tuition. fit.org Sign up for our newsletter. I hear from people by email all the time, Mark at tuition fit.org. Really, you’re welcome to email me with questions. I love just helping people as best I can so people can reach out any way they want.


Lisa Marker Robbins  20:38

That’s terrific. We’ll put it all in the show notes. Well, Mark, thank you for joining me, I just I love this episode. It is helping families


Mark Salisbury  20:47

take care. So it’s really a treat to be here.


Lisa Marker Robbins  20:52

When I serve a college bound parents, the number one concern is being smart about paying for college, regardless of whether you are a fluent or not. It’s just not wise to overspend on anything, let alone a six figure investment, which is what you are preparing to do as you send your teen to college. My regular listeners know, I get a weekly college bound challenge. This week, I want you to head over to tuition fit.org And check out Mark’s site. I’ve got the link in the show notes. I encourage you to sign up, it’s free. And just a friendly reminder, colleges are in business and you are their revenue. Don’t ever be shy about being a smart consumer. My podcast following has grown exponentially in the last few months. Thank you. it thrills me and not just because it’s a measure of my success, but because together our flourish community is resourcing more families for successful College and Career Clarity. If you are feeling resourced by what you’re learning on the podcast and as a friend of flourish, I’ve got a favor to ask. Please rate and review the show you’re doing so actually helps us resource more students. Thank you as always for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast where I help your family move from overwhelmed, confused, to motivated, clear and confident about your teens future.