Higher education news is dominated by the dialogue concerning the high price of education and resulting student debt. Last week the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that U.S. student debt hit a record $1.16 trillion. In an effort to educate students on the costs of higher education, every institution that receives funds under Title IV federal student aid programs is required under the Higher Education Opportunity Act to post a net price calculator on its website to provide net price information to students.

This calculator is to serve as a tool, allowing students to calculate an estimated net price of attendance (defined as the cost of attendance minus grant and scholarship aid) based on what students paid the previous year. Institutions may meet this requirement by using the U.S. Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator template or by developing their own calculator that includes the same elements as the Department’s template.

On Jan. 26, 2015, the Department released this year’s updated template, which provides data for 2013-2014. This template as well as other resources may be found at the Department’s Net Price Calculator Information Center. Although the Department has not provided a formal deadline to meet the annual requirement, it has made clear its expectation that institutions need to update their calculators once it releases new data. If an institution’s calculator is not readily accessible and up-to-date, prospective students may seek out other sources (which may or may not be reliable) to crunch college costs. Accordingly, colleges and universities should ensure they have a net price calculator on their website and that it provides data for 2013-2014 consistent with the Department’s recently released template.