College Abacus

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College Abacus is a Washington DC-based company that created a net price calculator aggregator in 2012. It is a web tool that generates free personalized financial aid estimates for prospective students using the official net price calculators posted on the websites of US colleges and universities.[1][2] The company was co-founded by Rhodes Scholars Abigail Seldin and Whitney Haring-Smith and later acquired by Educational Credit Management Corporation (a.k.a. ECMC), a non-profit student loan guarantor for an undisclosed seven-figure price.[3]


In 2011, all US colleges and universities eligible for Title IV funding from the US Department of Education were required to post online net price calculators in order to comply with the Higher Education Reauthorization Act of 2008. The Department of Education offered a free version for colleges to implement, but many institutions opted for a complex one.[4] A year later, Seldin and Haring-Smith co-founded College Abacus, after learning about the net price calculator issues from Tori Haring-Smith, the then president of Washington & Jefferson College. College Abacus generates individualized financial aid estimates for three schools simultaneously by offering a unified questionnaire to a user, sending the user’s information to the net price calculators of the selected schools, and pulling the estimates back to College Abacus for display and comparison after factoring in grants and scholarships.[5] It expanded operations and introduced Abacus 100 in September 2013, which gives up to 100 personalized financial aid estimates at a time for comparison. College Abacus was a winner of Gates Foundation-funded College Knowledge Challenge.[6]

The company also has a tool called Pell Abacus for low-income students,[7][8] which was launched by ECMC Group, after the acquisition of College Abacus in 2014.[9] Both College Abacus and Pell Abacus display data from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard with the net price calculator estimates on their results’ pages.[10] Secretary of Education John King highlighted the use of College Scorecard data in Pell Abacus in his 2016 speech, “Opportunity Across America.”[11]

According to The Wall Street Journal, College Abacus users were able to generate and compare financial aid estimates across 5000 different public and private universities, as of November 2015.[12]

Reception and criticism[edit]

In 2013, College Abacus was blocked from accessing net price calculators operated by Student Aid Services on behalf of 700 U.S. colleges and universities. Student Aid Services made unsubstantiated claims about data inconsistency and possible breach of personal information, which led to multiple colleges blocking the tool. Administrators were also concerned students would pick colleges only on the basis of pricing information. [13][5]

After clarifications by the co-founders, the tool gained confidence of Middlebury College, Washington University in St. Louis, and Yale University, while the University of Arkansas, Hamilton College, and Texas Christian University were considering whether to enable access; in 2016, Hamilton College‘s decision to allow its net price calculator to be included in College Abacus and Pell Abacus was published in The New York Times.[5][14][15]


  1. A great new tool for comparing college costs | CBS News | October 23, 2012
  2. Finance 101: College Abacus helps students figure out what schools they can afford | VentureBeat | September 25, 2013
  3. "Advice from a Millennial millionaire". Retrieved 2020-04-25.
  4. Net Price Calculator Information Center | National Center for Education Statistics
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Lieber, Ron (2014-11-21). "Comparing College Costs the Easy Way". "Your Money" column. The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-02-18.
  6. Finance 101: College Abacus helps students figure out what schools they can afford | VentureBeat | September 25, 2013
  7. The New Math of College Rankings | The Wall Street Journal | November 1, 2015
  8. Next U.S. education secretary talks computer science, and college, with D.C. high school students | Washington Post | December 10, 2015
  9. College Abacus, Net Price Comparison Site, Goes Nonprofit | Inside Higher Ed | August 4, 2014
  10. College Abacus Releases Tool for Low-Income Students | Inside Higher Ed | September 28, 2015
  11. "Opportunity Across America | U.S. Department of Education". Retrieved 2020-02-18.
  12. The New Math of College Rankings | The Wall Street Journal | November 1, 2015
  13. Clark, Kim (2013-11-07). "Battle brewing over College Abacus site that allows students to compare costs at thousands of colleges". CNNMoney. Retrieved 2020-02-18.
  14. Battle brewing over cost comparison site for colleges | CNN | November 7, 2013
  15. Lieber, Ron (2016-01-15). "Concealing the Calculus of Higher Education". "Your Money" column. The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-02-18.

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