College Affordability and Transparency Center (CATC) 2021: Definitive Guide for Using Your Results
This year (2021) marks the 11th year that the federal government, as part of its federally mandated responsibility (Section 132 of the Higher Education Act of 1965), will release the College Affordability and Transparency Center (CATC) lists (see 2020 announcement letter from US DOE). The CATC lists highlight institutions with low and high costs through the following six lists by sector using institutional data reported to IPEDS (from page 2):
- Highest Tuition and Fees: A list of the 5% of institutions from each sector that have the highest tuition and required fees for the most recent academic year.
- Highest Net Price: A list of the 5% of institutions from each sector that have the highest net price for the most recent academic year.
- Lowest Tuition and Fees: A list of the 10% of institutions from each sector that have the lowest tuition and required fees for the most recent academic year.
- Lowest Net Price: A list of the 10% of institutions from each sector that have the lowest net price for the most recent academic year.
- Highest Increase in Tuition and Fees: A list of the 5% of institutions from each sector that have the largest (percentage) increase in tuition and required fees, expressed as a percentage change, over the most recent three-year period.
- Highest Increase in Net Price: A list of the 5% of institutions from each sector that have the largest (percentage) increase in net price, expressed as a percentage change, over the most recent three-year period.
The lists are released to the public each year on July 1. Institutional IPEDS Keyholders are given early access to the information, in order to be prepared for the results before the data become public.
Note: Definitions for all CATC metrics are in the Definitions Chapter of the Definitive Guide.
Click on each image for a larger view.
What’s the Purpose of CATC Lists?
The increasing cost of college has been a hot topic for decades. In an effort to provide students and their families with information about tuition and fees, as well as net price (after scholarships), the federal government mandated these lists as part of the Higher Education Act Reauthorization. The purpose was to make it easier for prospective students understand the true costs of college. Additionally, the lists call attention to institutions with low tuition and/or net price, and are keeping those costs low. On the flip side, to discourage cost increases, colleges and universities with high tuition, net price, and significant increases are required to complete additional reporting to explain why.
The total cost of earning a degree is coming under increased scrutiny during the pandemic. Students and their families have fewer dollars and are questioning their return on investment. As such, IEHE has created the College Affordability and Transparency Center (CATC) 2021 Definitive Guide to help you understand and use your results.
Where to Get the Data
The CATC lists will be released on July 1, and it is important that you review ALL six lists to see if your institution is on them. Additionally — it is recommended that institutions review how close they are to being on each of the six lists. To access the lists, your options are to:
- Look at each list one by one on the CATC website (the 2020 lists are currently available)
- Download the Excel file (coming soon) and review each tab to see if your institution is on a list.
Since these data come from reports submitted by the institution to IPEDS, this is a good time to engage your institutional IPEDS Keyholder in the conversation.
Interpreting Your Results
Because the CATC lists contain a lot of information to digest, IEHE has created the CATC Data Analytics report (below) to help higher education leaders understand their results. This format offers one, easy to understand page, designed for senior leaders. With the CATC Data Analytics report, an institution can understand which lists it is on, how close or far away from each of those lists, and how to keep itself in good standing for the future.
Below, we offer a sample CATC Data Analytics for a fictional institution – Notable State College.
Now, let’s break it down – piece by piece. Below, we explain each part of a sample CATC Data Analytics document.
At the top of the CATC Review Report, the institution is identified as well as the relevant sector for the institution and its comparators, as shown below.
Row #1: The Institution’s Results
In Row #1 of an institution’s CATC Data Analytics, an institution will be able to quickly identify whether it has fallen on the high list for any CATC metric – a list no one wants to make. Conversely, they will also be able to see if they’ve made the low list on any measure – something to celebrate! Our color-coded emoji graphics make it easy to see where an institution stands on all four measures (tuition, tuition change, net price, and net price change).
The institution in the example below, made neither the high nor the low list for Tuition Change and Net Price Change. So, they are given a blue – “you’re cool” emoji for those metrics.
Luckily, the institution made the low list for Tuition Change, as evidenced by the green smile emoji.
Unfortunately, the institution made the high list on Net Price, as evidenced by the red frown emoji. This results in required additional reporting to the federal government to explain why the amount is so high at your institution as well as negatively publicity.
Row #2: The Institution’s Data on Each CATC point
Row #2 of the CATC Data Analytics offers the actual data for an individual institution. The Tuition, Tuition Change over the previous two years, Net Price, and Net Price Change will be listed for the institution. This is based on data the college/university submits directly to IPEDS each year.
Row #3: Sector Average
As noted above, nine sectors are delineated by CATC. The sector used in this example is “Four-Year Private Not-For-Profit” (noted above the table). Row #3 of the CATC Data Analytics offers the average data point for the sector.
Row #4: Difference
Row #4 of the IEHE CATC Review offers the difference between the institution’s own data point and the average of its comparison sector. If the difference is positive, this indicates that the institution’s metric is higher than the average of its sector on this point. Conversely, if the difference is negative, the institution’s data point is lower than that of the sector average.
Row #5: Amount from Lowest List
Row #5 compares the comparison institution to the institutions which did make the CATC lowest list. It helps the institution understand how far its Tuition and Net Price were from making the CATC lowest list. If these amounts are fairly low, the institution may want to consider holding its tuition or net price for the coming year in order to make the low list in the future. Note — the federal government does not calculate a “lowest” list for tuition & fees change or net price change, thus, an “n/a” is shown.
Row #6: Amount from Highest List
A warning can be found in Row #6, which compares the institution to those which made the CATC highest list. With this information, the institution can see how close it came to making the dreaded CATC highest list for each metric. If these amounts are low, the institution will want to carefully consider any increases to its tuition or net price for the coming year. If a slight change might land the institution on the CATC highest list on any measure, that could have a negative impact on the institution.
The following definitions are intended to supplement the CATC Data Analytic report described in the previous section. Definitions have been updated based on the anticipated definitions that will be released with the results on July 1. This page will be updated if any changes to definitions have been made.
Tuition: Tuition and required fees for full-time, first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students at Title IV institutions sorted by sector of institution for academic year 2019-20. For institutions that charge different tuition for in-district, in-state, or out-of-state students, the minimum tuition (in-district) was used.
Tuition Change: The percent change of tuition and required fees for full-time, first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students at Title IV institutions sorted by sector of institution for academic years 2017-18 and 2019-20. Table includes institutions that charge students by academic year and institutions that charge students by program. Tuition and fees for the largest program were used for institutions that charge by program. For institutions that charge different tuition for in-district, in-state, or out-of-state students, the minimum tuition (in-district) was used.
Net Price: Average net price of attendance for full-time, first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students at Title IV institutions sorted by sector of institution for academic year 2018-19. Table includes institutions that charge students by academic year.
The Higher Education Act, as amended, defines institutional net price as “the average yearly price actually charged to first-time, full-time undergraduate students receiving student aid at an institution of higher education after deducting such aid.” In IPEDS, average institutional net price is generated by subtracting the average amount of federal, state/local government, or institutional grant and scholarship aid from the total cost of attendance. Total cost of attendance is the sum of published tuition and required fees (lower of in-district or in-state for public institutions), books and supplies, and the weighted average for room and board and other expenses. Cost of attendance data are collected in the Institutional Characteristics (IC) component of IPEDS, and financial aid data are collected in the Student Financial Aid (SFA) component of IPEDS.
Net Price Change: The percent change of average net price of attendance for full-time, first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students at Title IV institutions sorted by sector of institution for academic years 2016-17 and 2018-19. Table includes institutions that charge students by academic year and institutions that charge students by program.
More details on the methodology of the CATC lists are available in the College Affordability and Transparency Explanation Form report (see section 2 “Methodology”).
Now that you have your results (or once you pull your results), the next question most senior leaders ask is … “What do I DO with this?” In other words, “what actions should we take?” To help get started with those cabinet level conversations, here are some questions to consider.
Questions for all institutions:
- How close did our institution come to the lowest/highest lists? Was it within a few dollars?
- Based on the tuition and fee decisions made recently, how might your institution fare in next year’s results?
- Is there anything leadership can do to avoid the high lists next year? Or make the low lists?
If an institution is on one of the four “lowest” lists . . .
- Who should develop our media response to make sure the public hears about this achievement? Sample press releases are in the resources section.
If an institution is on one of the four “highest” lists . . .
- Who should develop our media response to explain our position?
- Who will be responsible for the additional federal reporting which will be required now that we’re on a CATC highest list.
Want your institution’s custom CATC Data Analytic Report?
IEHE will create your institution’s custom CATC Data Analytic Report for you and review the results, along with potential action steps, with you in a one-hour video meeting to include IEHE’s President and institutional representatives of your choosing.
Looking for more references and resources? The IEHE team has pulled together some resources on CATC for your convenience.
Enrollment impact analysis of institutions that lowered their tuition by Encoura.
Sample press releases from institutions that made the “lowest list”
Do you have a press release to add to the list? Send us the press link.