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Faces of the Industry: Dave Murray from the National Center for College Costs

September 4, 2012

Dave Murray, President, National Center for College Costs

Since 1999, the National Center for College Costs (NCCC) has provided individualized programs and services that help students and parents prepare for college of all kinds.  Dave Murray, president of the National Center for College Costs, has been working with students and families on college admissions and financial aid issues for more than 30 years. Before starting NCCC, Murray worked at three universities. Most recently he was DePauw’s Dean of Admission and Associate Provost, then the Executive Director of nationally recognized Lilly Endowment-funded programs created to increase the college-bound rate at targeted Indiana schools. Dave Murray is a national figure in college admissions, financial aid, and enrollment management circles. The college selection materials and workshops he designed have been featured in a wide variety of media.

How did you get started in higher education? As a senior in college at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, I served on a university committee with Conrad Sharrow, the Director of Admission at the time. After graduation I went to work at Eastman Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, New York. I found myself watching the clock despite what was a coveted entry level job for some. So when Conrad had a staff resignation in August, right before the start of travel season, he called and offered me the job. I guess he felt he already “interviewed” me through the committee work, but that was the beginning of my 28 year journey through higher education until I left DePauw University in 1999 to set up the National Center for College Costs.

What is NCCC’s mission/vision? How do you think the ICCE helps realize this mission? Our mission is to help increase college access, retention and graduation rates. We don’t care whether a client family is low, middle or high income, once we know where a student stands under the federal financial aid formula, we know what strategies apply. Having said that, the biggest reason for starting the Center and our particular passion is helping low income, potentially first generation college students understand that college IS possible financially. The Indiana College Costs Estimator website (ICCE) that we built and the Commission for Higher Education has licensed as a free tool for all Indiana users, makes financial aid eligibility transparent before the spring of the senior year when actual financial aid awards arrive. You can see it at www.indianacollegecosts.org.

What are some of the benefits of families/students starting to research the cost of college earlier, rather than later? For some families, it is the first time they see that college IS possible financially. If you don’t think you can afford to go to college, why take chemistry? Why take physics? Courses that you really need to compete in today’s global economy and workforce. Among other things, early financial aid transparency means some students will take their work in school more seriously. Some also will make better course selections. And for both students and parents, it gets many of them off the list price of a college and onto the real bottom line cost for them.

Do you have any success stories? Lots of them. Of the over 20,000 parents who have filled out anonymous surveys after attending one of our College Costs Estimator workshops, 53% say they have more college options financially for their children than they thought they had an hour earlier. 66% say they have different college options than they thought they had. We think that is really moving the needle in an hour’s time. Some students and parents are in tears when we are able to show them that college is possible financially for their families. Some families will never believe that college is possible financially for THEM until we actually show them, in their own household numbers, the financial aid that is out there for them.

What makes the ICCE (Indiana College Cost Estimator) such a robust tool for Indiana families? Quite simply, it is the most comprehensive college selection, admission and financial aid website in the U.S. Texas is the only other state with a statewide website like ours. For example, school counselors tell us all the time how much time we have saved them. Each year they have spent many hours updating their school website; now all they have to do is send students and parents to the ICCE for all the information they need. Frequently the website is a part of individual college planning meetings with juniors as they begin to get serious about their own college selection processes.

And how is the ICCE aligned with secondary and post-secondary education policy? One of our goals with the website is to reinforce state and federal policy initiatives at every turn. For example, families in Indiana see that if they complete the Academic or Technical Honors Diploma (AHD/THD) they receive 100% of their state grant eligibility, whereas the Core 40 Diploma (C40) brings them only 80%, a difference potentially of thousands of dollars in grant money. No surprise, the AHD/THD Diploma recipients are retained and graduate at higher percentages than C40. The same is true when they see that going full-time leads to a state grant that you typically can’t get as a part-time student. Of course, full-time students at most colleges graduate at FAR higher percentages than part-time students. These are just a few of the messages sent through the website to reinforce education policy initiatives AND increase the amount of financial aid available to students. 

There are many different types of calculators out there. How does the ICCE stand apart from the others? As mentioned previously, the ICCE is one of only two customized, statewide calculators. It also is more robust than anything we have seen. At this “one-stop shop,” you can get federal, state, institutional merit and need-based institutional financial aid, and link to local scholarship information in all 92 Indiana counties.

How is the ICCE related to the federal Net Price Calculator (NPC) mandate that all colleges are required to participate in? It is both similar and different. The federal mandate can be met simply by putting up the weak federal template with its only eight required inputs, available from the U.S. Department of Education. The Indiana Commission for Higher Education asked us to build the ICCE in such a way that it would be a free solution for those colleges that chose to use it as their NPC by simply linking to it from their institutional website. Ivy Tech, Indiana’s statewide community college system, and eight other Indiana college campuses have chosen this free solution while the state license is in place. So, we have built the ICCE so it can be the NPC solution, but offers users a much more robust tool simultaneously.

Outside of the ICCE, what other programs/products does NCCC provide? We offer a highly customizable, online scholarship screening report service for scholarship providers so they know who REALLY needs their need-based scholarships. More and more scholarship providers are taking advantage of this service.

We also receive grants to provide a wide variety of workshops for students, parents and schools. A few examples would be FAFSA Days where we help high school seniors  and their parents file their FAFSA’s, then immediately interpret the results so they know which colleges they can afford (and which ones they cannot!). Other workshops might involve college selection tips; writing persuasive personal statements or essays for admission, scholarship or employer applications; mock college admission case studies to improve high school course selections; or bus trips to colleges so students begin to see themselves as college students for the first time in some cases. For a full list of our programming, please visit our company website at http://www.collegecosts.com/nccc/programs-products/college-preparatory-programming.

What life lesson or words of wisdom do you live by? I think the first thing that comes to mind is the saying that, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” My wife, Sue and I have been really blessed in so many ways. It starts with her work as mayor here in Greencastle and my work with NCCC, but we both have been extremely involved in the local community and the broader world for many years because of our belief that this is what we were put here to do.

What has been a recent favorite read and why? The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. I’m going to date myself here. It is his personal memoir about life growing up as a kid in the 1950’s. It is striking to see how far technology has come since the early days of the television, for example, and how much our American culture has changed. But it is absolutely hysterical. At times, he has me laughing so hard I have tears in my eyes. If you are looking for a light, funny, enjoyable and interesting look back, give it a whirl on your next trip to the beach.

What is your favorite “getaway” destination? This one is harder for me, I have to say I have two of them. For the last 39 years it has been my mother-in-law’s place on the beach (no cars allowed) in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. (When our kids were growing up, they would say they were going to “Florida,” but it wasn’t the whole state, we were only in “Florida” when we got to her lovely little slice of heaven.) More recently, it would be a time share we bought in Cabo San  Lucas. It is a wonderful, Bohemian place with weeks that are highly sought after so we also can trade for other time share spots all over the world. I wish I was in one of those spots right now! 🙂

Raina Chezem, Midwest Regional Director, Nelnet Partner Solutions

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