January 10, 2008
When word spread that Harvard would increase financial aid to both the middle and upper classes, tensions boiled at schools across the country. It was bad enough that Harvard attracted the best and the brightest from every nook and cranny—now they would be inexpensive too. Some guys have all the luck.
To be fair, Duke did beat Harvard in the financial aid race by being the first to announce their plan to pour an extra $13 million into the financial aid program, but their promise was simply not as impressive as the one offered by Harvard. When Duke capped their student loans to prevent debt, Harvard eliminated loans altogether—and replaced them with scholarships.
After Duke announced that parental contributions would no longer be expected from families who made less than $60,000, Harvard (which had already established that policy in 2006), announced that families making between $60,000 and $120,000 would only be required to contribute 0-10 percent of their income. Those making between $120,000 and $180,000 would only have to pay 10 percent of it.
Shortly thereafter, Stanford jumped on the bandwagon by saying that they too would do more to make their school affordable. According to The Stafford Daily, the school made plans to increase their need-based aid by 15.2 percent. The change would save the average parent $2,000 each year.
The trickle down effect also influenced other schools. Among those with New Year’s resolutions involving financial aid boosts are the University of Pennsylvania, Tufts, Haverford and Swarthmore.
Of course, not everyone gets to benefit. It’s easy to be a philanthropist when you have large endowments in the bank, which not all schools can boast. Students at colleges and universities with less money or larger student bodies were not as satisfied with their financial aid offices. According to The Michigan Daily, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor would not only leave their policies as they are, they would continue—like many other colleges—to raise their prices. So much for that financial aid revolution we've all been waiting for.
January 11, 2008
This year has not been a good one for college financial aid officials. The problems began when New York’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo spearheaded a seemingly endless number of investigations into whether student lenders and financial aid officials had been teaming up at the expense of students. Then there were the stories about study abroad advisors receiving trips by convincing students to travel, and then there were those of athletic departments allowing lenders to use their logos for profit. If the words “financial” and “college” were in the same sentence, the things in between weren’t good.
But a new year has arrived, and with it, hope for a better financial future in higher education-- which is exactly what’s expected. Based on new reports from Illinois State University’s Grapevine Project, state tax appropriations for higher education are expected to rise and give hope to students worried about high costs and low scruples.
North Dakota is expected to experience the greatest percentage change from last year, increasing their yearly state tax appropriations for higher education by 19.1 percent. Next on the list are Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arizona, each of which has raised their higher education appropriations by 14 to 15 percent. California, while not promising a particularly large percentage increase, is the one expected to appropriate most, over $11 million. With the exception of Rhode Island (which plans to lower appropriations), every state is creating this year's budgets with higher education in mind.
January 15, 2008
In the wake of a student loan scandal that has made families weary of financial aid officials, lenders and the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), the financial aid industry is eager to demonstrate a willingness for change--especially NASFAA.
The massive financial aid organization representing students and financial aid officials at more than 3,000 schools across the nation has made it clear that they are reevaluating the way their organization is run. Like numerous colleges, NASFAA has adopted a new code of ethics that will govern the way they work with student lenders and students.
In addition to the code, NASFAA has announced the appointment of a new president and CEO to replace Dallas Martin, the president who, after 32 years of work, retired amidst scrutiny of ill relations with lenders. Newly appointed President Dr. Philip R. Day has previously served as the chancellor of City College of San Francisco. He has also been the president of Beach Community College, Cape Cod Community College and Dundalk Community College. In a NASFAA news report, Dr. Day stated that he was, “committed to advancing NASFAA’s mission.”
January 16, 2008
An audit released by the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General on January 9, 2008 points to problems in financial aid disbursements. Based on audit results, over $1.5 billion in financial aid was awarded to students whose FAFSA responses were either questionable or made them ineligible for aid.
Stated problems included Pell grant overpayments, awards exceeding loan eligibility, citizenship questionability, lack of Selective Service registration and awards offered to students with drug convictions.
Over $812 million was said to be disbursed to 86,246 students who had not resolved their citizenship confirmation problems. More than $447 was offered to males not registered with the Selective Service and over $3 million to students convicted for drug-related matters.
Officials from the Federal Student Aid Department responded by stating that the, “Risk suggested by the report is overstated.” They also claimed the audit had not taken into account additional security measures the department used to minimize errors.
January 17, 2008
It’s no secret that student lenders have had a rough ’07. After an investigation by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo revealed that student lenders had been forming illegal agreements with colleges that promoted their services, the spotlight was cast on negative aspects of student borrowing.
Even though newly established ethics codes are likely force the lending industry to clean up its act, students are not likely to have better borrowing experiences. The poor housing market has not only affected those looking for mortgages, but also those in need of student loans. To be eligible for loans and loan consolidations, students will soon need proof of greater savings and higher credit scores. According to a CNN report, even students who show promise may see their interests rates increase by an estimated 1 percent.
At the same time, the rewards they receive for paying on time are expected to decrease. After the Higher Education Access Act of 2007 minimized student lender subsidies offered by the government, numerous lenders minimized their student benefits. The savings students were used to receiving for good payment track records are expected to curtail or disappear altogether.
As always, students have other options. Debt can pose a heavy burden on college graduates, so loans should be used as a last resort. Instead, students can use scholarships to diminish the costs of a postsecondary education. By conducting a free college scholarship search at Scholarships.com, students will have access to a database containing information on more than 2.7 million college scholarships and grants. Just about everyone can find awards they are eligible to receive.
January 18, 2008
Tuition hikes and complaints about illegal behavior on the part of financial aid officials and student lenders have put the pressure on colleges to dip into their endowment funds. With new reports showing that endowment returns are on the rise, these pressures are likely to increase.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, a recently released statement by Commonfund, an endowment manager for more than 1,900 colleges and nonprofit organizations, has shown that returns were averaging 16.9 percent in 2007, up from 10.6 percent the previous year.
Unlike one-time student scholarships, endowments are used to annually award money to college students. These funds are kept intact by investing the original donation and using the returns to provide students with yearly scholarships.
News of funding bounty is likely to prompt legislators to put additional pressure on schools with large endowment funds. Wealthy colleges, some of which are said to have accumulated endowments in excess of $1 billion, are being criticized for keeping their money locked up during a time when student debt is at an all-time high.
The problem with spending more, argue schools, is a strict endowment use policy. Many scholarship providers donate money on the condition that it be used only to assist a designated group of students. For example, a donor may choose to set up an endowment for the sole purpose of helping female students who play croquet, major in English and have a GPA above 3.5 (okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch). Point being, schools are legally bound to award scholarships to students that meet particular requirements.
It's hard to argue with that, but perhaps legislators can do something about the whole "legally-bound" part.
April 17, 2008
Nervous about economic turmoil and the uncertainty associated with oversized college loans, students are increasingly turning to community colleges for a low-cost alternative to a postsecondary education. Though certainly lower in cost, some students still need assistance in affording local schools. According to a recent study conducted by the Project on Student Debt, federal loans are not always an option for these students.
Based on the report, 20 percent of community college students living in eight states do not have access to low-interest federal loans. In Georgia, the state which fared worst, about 60 percent of community colleges did not participate in the federal loan program. Throughout the nation, the problem was most severe in low-income areas where students were most likely to seek out federal student aid in the form of loans.
After interviewing administrators at nonparticipating schools, it was found that the most cited reason for not taking part in the program was a fear that high default rates would lead to sanctions on Pell Grant disbursements to students. According to federal regulations, colleges with student default rates that exceed 25 percent for three consecutive years lose the ability to disburse the Pell Grant, a form of need-based federal aid that does not need to be repaid.
Capped at $4,310 for the 2007-2008 school year, the Pell Grant frequently suffices in making community college an option for students, especially those who work while attending school. However, the size of the grant is based on a student’s Expect Family Contribution (EFC) as determined by information provided on one's FAFSA, and many complain that the form does not take into account special circumstances that could result in a student’s inability to contribute the full expected amount. Families who receive no federal assistance in the form of a Pell Grant and those who receive an insufficient amount may be forced to take out more expensive private loans to attend. If ineligible, they may have to work until college is an affordable option.
April 18, 2008
On Thursday, the US House of Representatives passed a bill aimed at halting the mass leave of student lenders from the federal loan program. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, more than 50 lenders have left the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program to date. The growing departure has left families fearing that students will have no one to turn to for financial assistance once their Pell Grants and savings run dry.
To lessen the plight of FFEL lenders and students who depend on them for financial assistance, the bill would allow the Secretary of Education to purchase loans student lenders were not able to sell to investors. By pouring money into the loan market, the Department of Education would enable student lenders to use their capital for issuing new loans rather than paying out the original ones.
The new bill also addressed the lender of last resort, an emergency plan wherein guaranty agencies would be forced to lend money to students who were turned away by other lenders. Under the new plan, the Department of Education would have permission to advance funding to the agencies if need should arise.
To make the transition from the FFEL to the lender of last resort loan program easier on students, loans would be petitioned for on a college by college basis rather than a student by student one. Based on previous outlines of the untested program, students in need of a lender of last resort loan would have had to seek permission from the Department of Education and prove that at least two lenders had turned them down before receiving money.
A bill similar to the House version was introduced but not yet addressed by the Senate. Before the ideas are implemented, both the House and the Senate will have to iron out differences and send the final version to the president for approval.
April 22, 2008
To alleviate the affects of the intensifying credit crunch, Sallie Mae has been lobbying for government assistance. In past months, student lenders have been struggling to find buyers for both their loans and their loan securities. Sallie Mae, the largest student lender in the business, has turned to the government for assistance, asking that the US Treasury assuage loan market tensions by purchasing their securities.
In yesterday’s PBS Nightly Business Report, specialty finance analyst Sameer Gokhale and student loan expert Tom Stanton weighed in on the potential effects of such a move. According to Sameer Gokhale, a quick infusion of cash from the Treasury would, “help all of those lenders and ultimately result in a smoother flow of capital back into the student loan system.”
Tom Stanton took a different approach claiming that federal intervention was not yet necessary. “In its last year as a government sponsored enterprise, Sallie Mae made something like 73 percent return on equity, a very generous return. There’s no need at this point to go back to the government and get support,” he stated.
Even if student lenders continue to drop out of the government’s FFEL program and assistance such as that requested by Sallie Mae is not offered by the Treasury, students will have federal student aid resources to rely on. A Department of Education lender of last resort measure wherein the government would act as a lender to students denied loans by other lenders would prevent financial catastrophe, but according to the Nightly Business Report Correspondent Stephanie Dhue, resorting to such a plan would be more time consuming than enhancing funds for the one already in place.
The lender of last resort is yet untested, and, although details are being addressed by Congress, setting up the new program could be painstaking for schools. However, with the Chronicle of Higher Education citing more than fifty FFEL student lender departures, the program may be put into action regardless.
April 24, 2008
As far as we know, there isn’t one. Let’s begin by addressing your first question: if there is no catch, who's paying for this, and what's their work incentive? The answer is FlatWorld, and, if things go right for the new company, guidebooks, work materials and requests for in-print versions will be sufficient to cover labor costs and to generate profits.
Since 2007, FlatWorld has been crafting their innovative idea, and it plans to make services available to the public by 2009. The diversity of their textbook selections and the facility of their use will largely determine the success of their new venture, but students aware of FlatWorld will probably, at the very least, check out their site. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the average college student spends over $900 on textbooks—annually. Being able to pocket a good chunk of that money will significantly alleviate financial burdens caused by increasing college rates.
Electronic book versions are not exactly new, and companies less geared towards college students dealing with unregulated textbook costs have already offered similar services. Electronic books in general are growing in popularity, especially the fee-based ones. If you’ve done some Amazon shopping or people watched on the train in recent months, you’re probably familiar with the new Amazon electronic reading device. It’s catching on quickly, but, truth be told, there’s just something about physically holding a piece paper. As much as I love branches, I couldn’t help but print out class articles en masse during finals week, ones I could have easily browsed online. (In my defense, I did fit four pages on one sheet.) The ability to quickly scribble a note, double star a sentence or circle a key word just makes the learning process more interactive and complete.
Still, I’m willing to bet that dishing out $120 for a textbook that can’t be resold due to future edition changes can make a little inconvenience worthwhile. Most money management tactics can. And FlatWorld is doing its best to make up in ease what they lose in “that special something”. By making their texts editable to both students and the professors who assign them, they have made their options a bit more user friendly and appealing. Readers can even interact with each other during the reading process—I smell an attractive cliff note opportunity. Dragging your desktop to the quad may be a bit of a pain, but being able to afford vacation time may give you an incentive.
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