Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

School Name

Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education



Major Advisor

Dr. David D. Paige

Second Advisor

Dr. Robert B. Cooter, Jr.

Third Advisor

Dr. Fred Rhodes

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Doris Tegart


Higher education attainment benefits individuals and society. But access to higher education is not equitable. Students from low-income families, even those with equal qualifications, are underrepresented throughout the education pipeline, and the gap by family income increases at each educational milepost. The major impediments to increasing college-going rates for lower-income families are financial, experiential, motivational and informational. A key informational impediment is the difficulty families have in understanding information about college costs and financial aid. In 2011, the federal government attempted to improve information access for all by requiring colleges and universities to post a Net Price Calculator on their websites. This study examines use of the Net Price Calculator in its first year at six private, non-profit, four-year colleges and universities, based on a total of more than 10,000 users’ family income levels, and the tool’s visibility on the schools’ websites. Using a chi-square analysis with three levels of family income and two levels of visibility, the results suggest that prospective students at these six schools were almost nine times more likely to use the Net Price Calculator if it was highly visible on the institution’s website, and that lower-income students used it more frequently than expected, regardless of its website location. The study suggests that the Net Price Calculator may have the potential to help close the information gap that has been an obstacle for some lower-income students in access to higher education, and calls for further research.