September 20, 2007
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation into illegal incentives within the student lender industry has burgeoned into a full-out hunt for immoral use of student funds. The buzz has recently spread into college study abroad offices where administrators frequently receive money and free-of-charge trips in exchange for recruiting student travelers. As always, there are two sides to every story, and many college officials have been eager to tell theirs.
According to some study-abroad advisors, the trips were much more business than they were pleasure. College administrators have said that travel was a necessary tool for advisors who educated students on their locations of interest. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Ms. Gayly Opem, executive vice president of marketing at the Institute for the International Education of Students, held such an opinion stating, “I don’t know of any other way for them to do it than to visit the program.”
An accusation more difficult to justify was one that claimed students who chose to travel without school program assistance were sometimes denied approval for credit transfers. The New York Times article about Brendan Jones, a Columbia student denied credit transfer from Oxford told the story of one such case. Although Oxford is well known for its academic excellence, and ranked higher than some abroad institutions Brendan’s Columbia peers received credits from, the transfer was denied. Instead of returning, Brendan decided to finish school at Oxford.
Studying abroad is generally regarded as an enriching experience, in a both intellectual and social sense, but brows are rising at the business side of college travel. After Cuomo’s investigation revealed questionable administrative tactics, the idea of colleges and travel agencies marketing travel as a full-out panacea just feels tainted. A 2004 issue of Transitions Abroad magazine featured the results of a study by the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) which claimed that 98% of students who spent a year abroad returned with increased sef-confidence and a higher level of maturity. It also reported that about 70% of the travelers returned with an ignited interest in a career direction they pursued after the experience. I have a feeling that plenty of students studying in the U.S. also developed career interests during college.
The overall theme of the investigation is that college costs are out of control, and college administrators who act like businessmen are in part to blame. While hope for a major overhaul of the funding system is a bit premature, new legislation passed by Congress will increase Pell Grants and decrease some student loan interest rates. In the mean time, students can fill funding gaps by conducting a free scholarship search and applying for awards. Students can also use Scholarships.com’s resources to find much-needed information about taking control of their finances and planning ahead for college costs.
September 21, 2007
Filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is kind of like filling out a super complicated Christmas wish list. You write it, you hand it over and you cross your fingers when the time to open approaches. A lot of times you’re disappointed with the results. Students should never dismiss the prospect of government aid. Even if they are not eligible to receive need-based grants, they will still have unsubsidized Stafford and PLUS Loans options. Receiving award letters with little or no aid options is frustrating, and it’s all because of that stupid Expected Family Contribution (EFC) formula.
How much government aid a student receives is largely dependent on how much the government thinks a family can contribute to the education of their child. This is what is known as the Expected Family Contribution. Based on the income and asset information students provide on their FAFSA, the government determines a student’s EFC number. The number is then sent to the student’s school of choice which subtracts it from their estimated Cost of Attendance (COA). What’s left over is used to determine if a student is eligible to receive federal or nonfederal aid.
The problem with the EFC is that it often overestimates how much a family is really able to contribute to a child’s education. Although factors such as a (dependent) student family size and the number of family members attending college are considered, the expectations can still seem high. According to a 2004 Department of Education report, a family making between $45,000-49,000 per year was expected to contribute $6,000 to their child’s education. One making between $50,000-54,000 was expected to contribute $7,000 and one that made between $95,000-99,000 was expected to contribute $18,900. It is doubtful that the average family can afford to contribute that much after paying all bills. Those with particular need, families with an EFC lower than $4,110, are eligible for free Pell Grant money this year, but only up to $4,310. That is not the average grant aid a student receives.
Recently released government data shows that, based on the average cost of an education at a public college, a family who sends one student to school is expected to contribute about 25% of their median household income. Those families who send their child to a private school are expected to contribute about 57% of their median household income. Even if students receive the maximum Pell Grant award, $4,310, the family may be nowhere near meeting the costs associated with a college education. If students are lucky, the new Congress-approved Pell Grant increase outlined in the College Cost Reduction and Access Act will be signed by President Bush. Based on White House reports, the president is expected to sign the legislation, but some doubts are still present.
Students who have been offered little or no financial assistance from the government can always look to scholarships and grants for financial assistance. Conducting a free scholarship search will allow students to find myriad awards they are eligible to receive. By using Scholarships.com’s resources, students can find the scholarship and financial aid information they need to fund their education.
September 24, 2007
On September 20, 2007, a meeting of more than 40 representatives and national associations was held to discuss college ethics matters. The off-the-record discussion was organized by David Ward, the president of American Council on Education (ACE), in part as a response to recent investigations into unethical business practices between student lenders and colleges.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the meeting dealt with problems within the student lending industry as well as with questionable credit card solicitations to alumni and sporting-event ticket distributions. Mr. Ward was quoted as saying, “"If, for example, a president is about to sign a contract, somebody should say, 'What's the story we're giving to the public on this?' And if the president pauses, then maybe they need to pause on the contract too."
Pressures on schools to come up with funds have led to questionable actions that include receiving kickbacks from lenders and study abroad organizations. The meeting was to address such actions and to come up with plausible solutions. During the conference, Mr. Ward was asked to create a committee that would address legal problems between colleges and businesses and to come up with a checklist to assist college administrators in recognizing potential ethical problems.
To avoid or minimize the use of student lender services, students can look to scholarships and grants that can assist them in funding a college education. Conducting a free scholarship search will allow students to find myriad awards they are eligible to receive. For additional information on financial aid and college-related issues, students can take advantage of Scholarships.com Resources.
September 26, 2007
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is to receive a much contested Stanford University fellowship, and to offer one.
Much of Stanford University’s faculty as well as numerous students and alumni were outraged after it was announced that Donald Rumsfeld would be receiving a one-year fellowship from the school. The appointment would entail Rumsfeld examining and advising a university panel on issues of national security and the aftermath of September 11th.
Like most Ivy League schools, Stanford is known to be campus of liberal thinkers—the same can’t be said of its public policy research center that extended the invitation. It is unsurprising that a former high-ranking staff member of the Bush administration, one who resigned amidst accusations of Iraq war mishandling, was immediately deemed a campus misfit.
A petition with, as of now, 3,483 students, alumni and faculty signatures has been created in the hopes of withdrawing the offer. As stated in the petition, “We view the appointment as fundamentally incompatible with the ethical values of truthfulness, tolerance, disinterested enquiry, respect for national and international laws, and care for the opinions, property and lives of others to which Stanford is inalienably committed.”
Donald Rumsfeld also had something to say on the topic of fellowships—that he will soon be awarding them. There are plans in store for a new Rumsfeld foundation that will shortly be awarding fellowships to students who plan to enter the field of public policy after graduating from college. Rumsfeld hopes that the award will encourage students to work for the government.
In addition to assisting graduates, the foundation will offer loans to micro-enterprises in developing countries and support Central Asian republics. It will likewise fund lectures on various topics, the kind of work Rumsfeld may be doing for Stanford.
According to the Washington Post, Rumsfeld has recently criticized both the press and Congress for “creating an environment that is not particularly hospitable to public services.” It was a comment in response to an advertisement that blasted Army General David H. Petraeus as one to, “Betray Us”. But that was the press. Who is left to blame for student and faculty criticism?
President Bush is certainly keeping students waiting. Graduates debating loan consolidation and lenders pressuring them to go through with it are standing by to see if the Congress-approved College Cost Reduction Act will finally be signed by the president.
If the bill is passed, the government will cut lender subsidies by October 1st. The savings will then be used to increase Pell Grants to needy students. October is fast approaching, but the president has yet to make a move on the bill approved by Congress on September 7th. The potential law is not only important because of the grant factor; it is important because it may mean cuts in financial breaks offered by student lenders.
Lenders have warned that if the bill passes, students will not be granted many of the financial perks they were once eligible for. One of the perks in jeopardy is the Sallie Mae (the largest lender in the business) interest rate cut on consolidated loans to borrowers who pay on time for three years. Sallie Mae and other lenders are making the best of the situation by pressuring students to consolidate with them before things change.
Except that consolidating is not always in a student’s best interest. Students who have loans issued before July 2006, ones with interest rates that change each year, may lock in this year’s rates by consolidating. (loans borrowed after July 1, 2006 have fixed yearly rates.) If interest rates increase, students may be doing themselves a favor. They will be able to keep their discounts and maintain lower rates.
But there is a large chance that rates will go down. If students wait, they may be able to get lower rates that can offset lender discounts, ones that many students aren’t even eligible for. Students should also remember that by consolidating and increasing the lifespan of their loan, they will be paying more in the long run. They will be paying less each month, but additional payments mean more interest buildup.
Consolidation is a tough call. It’s hard to foretell the future. Numerous financial aid administrators suggest that students contact their lenders to find out exactly what discounts they can keep by consolidating. If they are big and the likelihood of eligibility is there, they can consider.
September 28, 2007
After an anxious wait on the part of students and lenders, President Bush finally signed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act into law. And you know this is big if MTV reported on the bill even though partying at club Les Deux wasn’t involved.
According to the new law, the maximum Pell Grant offered to students will increase while the subsidies the government offers student lenders will decrease. This is the biggest boost in student aid since the GI Bill for veterans---and a fresh change from the 2005 $12 billion financial aid cut.
Among those who will benefit are needy students eligible for government grants and those who borrow from the government. Currently, students are eligible to receive a maximum $4,310 Pell Grant each year. This number will increase gradually, reaching a high of $5,400 by 2012.
Under the act, new subsidized Stafford loan interest rates will also be cut. A low point of 3.4 percent will be available to students who borrow between July 1, 2011 and July 1, 2012. Unfortunately, students will have to wait until 2008 to take advantage of this change. Until then, they are stuck with the current fixed 6.8 percent loan interest rate.
Students who plan to teach in low-income neighborhoods after graduating may also benefit. Future teachers may receive a $4,000 TEACH Grant for each year they attend school (up to $16,000 for undergraduates and $8,000 for graduates), but a pretty detailed list of additional eligibility criteria must also be met.
The bill was largely a result of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation into illegal actions within the $85 billion student loan industry. The investigation revealed that numerous financial aid administrators, including one from the Department of Education, received financial incentives from lenders who hoped to improve their standing with schools.
Some of the financial aid changes outlined in the act were previously considered, but Cuomo’s investigation provided much-needed impetus. Although Bush had initially threatened to veto the bill, he agreed to sign once recommended changes were made. In a White House photo, the president is shown signing the bill with four smiling college students, three smiling congressmen and a smiling Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings looking over his shoulder. A sign that read, “Making College More Affordable” hung from his desk.
October 2, 2007
October 3, 2007
Buying Sallie Mae, the biggest lender in the business, may have seemed like a great idea at first, but doubts have been creeping up. A group of investors that includes J.C. Flowers & Company, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Friedman Fleischer & Lowe initially offered $25 billion for Sallie Mae, but has recently retracted the offer blaming new legislation for the decision. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act signed by President Bush last week entails, among other things, government cuts on subsidies given to student lenders. Over the next five years, about $21 billion would be cut from lender support and invested in student aid programs.
J.C. Flowers & Company stated that their decision abides by contract rules and that such legislation was considered when the contract was drawn up. A smaller purchase price was still proposed, and, if Sallie Mae performs well, the offer may increase.
The legislation will certainly not put the lender giant out of business, but Sallie Mae may feel some pressure. The lender has stated that the new law will force it to give up some student perks, and that won’t go over well with borrowers. Those who have financial needs will still be forced to borrow once government grants and loans are exhausted, but increased caps on both may decrease student needs.
October 11, 2007
It’s been a long year for colleges across the nation. Aside from the student lender and college study abroad fiascos, investigators are looking more closely at the handling of endowments by colleges.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, many schools have accumulated large endowment funds, some in excess of $1 billion. This is tax-free money, and if investments are well-planned, interest will lead to annual gains.
Despite this, college tuition rates have soared across the country, and students are increasingly left with debts that sometimes mirror mortgages. A proposal that could allay this problem involves forcing schools with large endowments to spend about 5 percent of their money each year, or be subject to taxes. After all, endowments are meant to aid, not hoard.
But some schools say that this is not as easy as it may seem. People who donate often leave specific instructions for endowment spending. Money may be set aside, for example, for students who are financially needy and epileptic, or for those who conduct research in the hearing sciences.
Based on the written testimony of four higher education associations, the American Council on Education, the Association of American Universities, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, proposed legislation is based on inaccurate college endowment information.
According to the testimony, an average of 80 percent of endowment assets were restricted at public institutions in 2006, and 55 percent were restricted at private ones. That, of course, still leaves plenty of unrestricted funds that could be used to greatly relieve student needs. This, by the way, is what higher education associations already claim to do.
The issue is a bit of a slippery slope. Endowments could diminish if expenditure choices were left up to college officials. Plus, available money doesn’t necessarily translate into swimming pools of cash for directors to dive into.
Then again, tuition is getting out of hand, and storing large amounts of money when students have little choice but to take out excessive loans seems a bit immoral. Perhaps additional information is needed on unrestricted money expenditures and on how much is needed to maintain interest that would keep funds afloat.
October 18, 2007
It’s difficult to read a national newspaper–your choice–for longer than a week without coming across at least one article dealing with the environment. Why should a blog be any different? Jokes and polar bears aside, the environment is in need of some true student TLC, and students have plenty of it to give. Here are some things each of us can do to help.
1. Get educated Change starts with education. When searching for potential colleges, take into consideration the variety of classes offered. The more options schools have, the more you can dabble in various interests, especially the environment. By educating yourself about environmental issues, you can learn about ways to improve the situation, and what’s more, inspire others with your newfound knowledge. When you let people see how the environment affects them personally, you are more likely to convince them that their efforts and time are worth the investment.
2. Turn off the lights Saving money and energy is a click away, or a clap clap. Remember to turn off lights and appliances when you are through with them. Pay extra attention to air conditioners—open windows and running air conditioners make mother earth cry.
3. Live by the triple R’s Many of us already reduce, reuse and recycle to some extent, but most of us don’t really crack down on bad habits. By making the three R’s your mantra, you can reduce emissions, save some tree lives and fatten your piggybank.
4. Write to Congress This one is for the ambitious. Begin a petition in support of the Kyoto Protocol to be sent to Congress; or at least sign the one you make your friend create. So far, 172 countries and governmental entities have signed the pact limiting emissions. Somehow the U.S. is not one of them.
5. Take public transportation A great benefit to most on-campus travel is the abundance of public transportation. Taking the bus or train to school can reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and it can also free up some time to chat or study. It may not be the most convenient way of getting around, but improvement isn’t always convenient. For those who live close by, riding a bike, rollerblading or walking is also a good option.
6. Bring your own bags and mugs Try stuffing your groceries into a backpack, and bring mugs to coffee shops. (Or visit ones that offer in-house cups.) Some stores and coffee shops will even give you discounts for doing so.
7. Be laptop savvy in class You won’t look like you’re too cool for school by bringing your laptop to lectures—really. Students can save much paper by appending and saving posted online notes on laptops. By bringing a laptop to class, you can save trees and increase the likelihood of future legibility. Plus, editing is easier on a computer, and most students can type more quickly than they can write. If you’re not one of them, it’s about time you practiced.
There are plenty of things students can do to make a difference, and many are already hard at work. This year, Scholarship.com’s annual Resolve to Evolve scholarship prizes were awarded to students who wrote the best essays on problems dealing with standardized testing and the environment. See what the winners had to say on the topic, and check out Scholarships.com's new Resolve to Evolve $10,000 essay scholarship. You can also search our database for college scholarships and grants; begin finding money for college today!
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