August 8, 2008
Earlier this week, Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick asked his state's wealthiest universities (such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to help bail out the Massachusetts Education Financing Authority (MEFA), which announced last week that it would not be able to provide loans to over 40,000 students this fall. However, as an article published today in The Chronicle of Higher Education explains, many parties regard this request as well-intentioned but highly problematic, mainly due to recent lawsuits and legislation regarding potential conflicts of interest in relationships between colleges and student loan providers. The Massachusetts state treasurer, who vetoed the governor's request to invest money in MEFA, stated that bailing out MEFA was not a good investment and could set a dangerous precedent for use of state funds. While several colleges said they would consider investing in MEFA to help them provide enough loans to be able to receive assistance from the federal government, none have yet said yes, and many express concerns about what people will think of their relationship with the lending agency once the economy recovers. When viewed in light of last year's preferred lender list scandal, such hesitation is understandable.
However, while both sides of this issue have adopted positions based on sound principles and the belief in doing what will ultimately be best for students, thousands of students are still left in a lurch when it comes to finding money for college. With the new Higher Education Act still sitting on President Bush's desk, and the school year fast approaching, many families, and not just ones in Massachusetts, may be struggling to find ways to pay for school. It's never too late to start applying for financial aid, though! Students who haven't yet done so should complete a FAFSA on the Web, which could potentially qualify you for federal grant programs. Once you've received your financial aid award letter, be sure to talk to your school's financial aid office, especially if you plan on receiving loans. Finally, students of all ages should also check out our free scholarship search, as there are scholarships being awarded year-round, and scholarship awards can be one of the best means of funding your education.
December 9, 2008
Yesterday, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced that they had reached a settlement with the College Board regarding the preferred lender list controversy that has been unfolding since early 2007. The investigation revealed that the College Board had been offering discounts on its products to college financial aid offices that agreed to add their student loan service to a preferred lender list. Discounts of more than 20 percent off the College Board's proprietary software were given in exchange for placement on preferred lender lists. The College Board pulled out of private loans in 2007, but the investigations continued, culminating in yesterday's settlement, the latest of several with private student lenders.
The College Board has agreed to adhere to a code of conduct if it ever returns to the private lending market. The organization will be required to put $675,000 towards developing tools to help students and financial aid offices compare student loan offers. The College Board will also be required to distribute its new student loan calcualtors and "requests for proposals" (the forms that will allow for comparison among student loans) freely to schools for the next two financial aid cycles.
This news came as the Career College Assocation, an organization of private career-training institution administrators, released the results of a survey indicating the difficulty that students at two year, for-profit schools currently face finding money for college. More students are registering but not attending classes, and having trouble finding a private loan without a cosigner. The majority of schools report students needing to change lenders or facing higher interest rates. Some students are unable to procure a private loan at all, while others are contending with delayed loan disbursements. A number of these colleges have stepped in to offer institutional student loans, ranging from less than $1,000 to over $10,000, to students who are unable to meet the gap between their federal student financial aid and their cost of attendance.
December 10, 2008
Last month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation revealed plans for a new grant program that would focus on improving rates of college completion for low-income students. The first recipients of the grants were announced Tuesday, primarily consisting of organizations that either study or promote college preparedness and completion among the foundation's target groups. While few of the grants awarded will translate directly into college scholarships for first-generation, low-income, or minority students, many of the programs receiving funding are intended to help these students go to college and create success. Currently, only 25 percent of low-income students finish college, and each year high schools produce over 560,000 college-eligible graduates (most whose parents make less than $85,000 a year) who will fail to earn a college degree within 8 years, according to research cited by the New York Times. The Gates Foundation's stated goal for this grant program is to eventually double the percentage of low-income students completing a college degree or certificate program by the age of 26. The Chronicle of Higher Education explains that the grant initiative will have a three-pronged approach: "making the case to policy makers, educators, and business leaders about the need for increasing college-completion rates; accelerating success in remedial education; and ensuring that young people have the financial, social, and academic support to succeed in college." Coupled with the existing Gates Millenium Scholarship Program, which helps disadvantaged and minority students pay for school, these Gates Foundation grants have the potential to ultimately make not only attending college, but earning a degree and achieving college goals possible for the majority of American high school graduates.
December 11, 2008
If you're thinking of heading off to a community college next year to either pick up an associate's degree or save some money on your core credits for a bachelor's degree, expect company. Similarly, if you're planning to attend a for-profit career college to up your chances of landing a decent job, you are definitely not alone. During recessions, people typically flock to college, often choosing cheaper or quicker degree programs to help them get on their feet and be more competitive on the workforce. Enrollment is up at career colleges and community colleges are expecting a similar increase. While reduced state higher education funding and continued troubles in the private loan market are causing some problems at two-year and career colleges, both types of schools are expecting major increases in enrollment as more Americans deal with fallout from the faltering economy. If you're heading off to college in 2009, you definitely want to take all of this into account. Apply early for admission and financial aid, and register early for classes. Several community colleges are also instituting programs to fill empty seats in classrooms with unemployed students, so if you typically wait until almost the start of the term to register for classes, you may have more trouble finding a seat than you have in the past. While students enrolled in online degree universities won't have to compete for physical space, they may still notice some effects of increased enrollment. With state universities and community colleges facing budget cuts and increased enrollment, you may face more competition for fewer resources as everyone searches for ways to save money. One group of students may actually see less competition, though. The number of students taking the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) this year is down, suggesting that fewer students may be planning to apply for graduate programs. Typically, like community college and career college applications, graduate school applications go up during recessions. However, while MBA applications are up this year, many programs that require the GRE may see fewer prospective graduate students. The effects of the credit crunch on student loans, the uncertainty of the economy and employment prospects, and the desire not to lose a source of income were all listed as possible reasons for this decrease in an article in Inside Higher Ed.
December 17, 2008
Amid all the bleak news about college affordability, family finances, and the economy in general, it's nice to hear something good every now and then. And there is good news out there. Despite financial hardships, many colleges are not only continuing to offer generous financial aid packages, but are actually expanding scholarships, grants, and tuition waivers for needy and deserving students. As a taste of what's out there for students across the country, we're presenting a roundup of campus-based aid programs announced this week. Conduct a college search on Scholarships.com to learn more about these and other schools committed to helping students enroll and stay enrolled. While you're at it, be sure to start a free college scholarship search to find more ways to fund your education.
A number of cities, states, and universities offer promises, guarantees, or other commitments to cover four years' full tuition for financially needy or academically gifted students. While a wave of these scholarship and grant programs were launched in financially better times, more are still being unveiled in the current economic climate.
Manchester College in Indiana has rolled out a "Triple Guarantee" that promises to make college more affordable and less stressful for its students. Qualifying students are guaranteed a combination of federal, state, and institutional aid up to the total cost of tuition and mandatory fees for four years. Students with a 3.3 GPA or higher who qualify for the Pell Grant are guaranteed full-tuition grant aid. On top of paying tuition for four years for needy students, the college also guarantees four-year graduation for everyone who meets progress requirements, and will allow qualified students who need a fifth year to attend for free until they graduate. Finally, the school also guarantees a year of free tuition for additional coursework or certifications for students who fail to find a job placement or a spot in graduate school within six months of graduation.
In a similar vein, St. John's University in New York is also offering a substantial tuition discount to unemployed alumni. Graduates of St. John's who were laid off in the economic downturn can return to college to pursue a graduate degree for half-price. Alumni will also receive free career counseling services and see their application fees waived for graduate programs.
Finally, Texans get multiple pieces of good news. More students at Rice University will be able to graduate debt-free, as the university has expanded its no loan program to families making up to $80,000 per year. Students with family incomes over the $80,000 threshhold who still qualify for need-based aid will not be asked to borrow more than $10,000 in student loans for four years. Lamar University is also making college more affordable for Texans by unveiling the Lamar Promise, which will cover tuition and fees for all freshmen and transfer students who qualify as "dependent" students for federal aid whose families make less than $25,000 a year. Students who make more are likely to also receive substantial financial aid packages. Tuition assistance will come in the form of state, federal, and institutional financial aid.
December 19, 2008
We've said it before and I'm sure we'll say it again. Despite the economy, money for college is still available. A scholarship search, a visit to your college's student financial aid office, and a quick perusal of recent college news should all confirm this. But if you're someone who needs additional empirical evidence, a survey conducted by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, a group representing private colleges (whose students typically rely more on institutional aid than state college students) also supports this conclusion. The results, which were published Thursday, show that only 8.4 percent of institutions surveyed have frozen or cut student aid for either this academic year or the next.
While not fantastic news, when taken in context with the rest of the survey's results, it is encouraging. Nearly 68 percent of colleges reported a significant decline in their endowments and many colleges reported concerns over fundraising, tuition, and other sources of revenue. Despite this, though, colleges seem to be putting their students' interests first when dealing with budget concerns. For example, 31 percent of colleges surveyed don't yet have plans to increase tuition for 2009-2010, and at least two respondents specifically mentioned increasing student financial aid in their comments. The most popular cost-cutting measures have been freezing hiring, restricting travel, and slowing construction. Cutting student services, campus-based aid programs, and academic programs have been the least popular moves.
To find out more about how small private colleges are weathering the economic downturn, you can visit NAICU's news room. To scope out private colleges near you, conduct a free college search on Scholarships.com.
December 23, 2008
While there has been much speculation that economic woes would drive students away from more expensive schools, generous financial aid packages, such as those offered by many Ivy League schools, may be driving early applications up. It's speculated that students whose resources have been reduced and whose options may be limited are vying for any college seat with a full-tuition scholarship attached.
Early action and early decision college application deadlines have now passed at the majority of competitive private colleges. As the schools begin sorting through these applicants and making admission decisions, many are reporting that numbers are up, in some cases way up. Stanford University has seen early action applications increase 18 percent this year, while early decision applications have increased by 23 percent at Duke University. Other selective schools, such as Yale and Northwestern, have seen similar increases, as well.
While regular applications have held steady at Harvard University, other private schools that have seen a surge in early applications have heard from fewer regular decision applicants. The regular admission pool may have thinned due to students paring down their lists or choosing less expensive state colleges as safety schools. This could be good news for all of the early applicants who may find themselves bumped into the regular admission pool, though many schools are worried that fewer applicants could ultimately mean fewer enrolled students, especially if more students follow the money to the most affordable schools.
If you're a high school senior still in the process of applying for college, you may want to check out the articles appearing in The New York Times and The San Jose Mercury News this week and consider modifying your college search to take advantage of shifting application patterns. If you're in the market for a private college and you have the time and money to put together a couple extra application packets, it could pay off, especially if you're able to wait until April or May to make your final decision as to where to go.
August 18, 2009
Back to school season is also college rankings season, and in addition to well-known lists like those published by U.S. News and Princeton Review, several other organizations publish their own college rankings based on often-overlooked criteria. One such list was released this week by G.I. Jobs Magazine, naming the top military-friendly schools in the United States. To make the list, a school must be in the top 15 percent of colleges, universities, and trade schools in the nation when it comes to recruiting and serving military veterans.
This information is timely for many veterans who may be starting their college search after the new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill took effect at the beginning of this month. Expanded benefits will help more veterans pay for school at more institutions, with funding available for up to the full amount of tuition and fees at the most expensive state college in each state, as well as housing and book allowances. However veteran students, like other adult students, often need additional support to succeed in college, both where their coursework and their financial aid are concerned.
Rather than just including four-year universities, the military-friendly schools list also features community colleges and trade schools, institutions that attract veterans and other returning students, and that are expected to play an instrumental role in President Obama's push to increase the number of Americans attending college.
Based on survey responses and published information, G.I. Jobs ranked schools on their committment to recruiting veterans, providing programs for military students, and maintaining overall academic excellence. The complete list, as well as survey questions and information on methodology can be found on the G.I. Jobs Guide to Military Friendly Schools website.
August 19, 2009
As the start of the fall semester approaches, students across the country are finding themselves in a precarious position when it comes to financial aid. As we've previously mentioned, several states have been forced to make deep budget cuts this year, canceling or reducing funding for scholarships and grants, in some cases after award notices have already been sent to students. This has left students scrambling for last-minute student loans, and in some cases facing the difficult decision of whether to take a semester off while trying to procure alternate funding.
The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News both feature articles this week that offer up alternatives for students who have come up short on funding for the fall. While scholarship opportunities are still available for the coming academic year and should be pursued, students who need immediate sources of funding may want to check out private loans, peer-to-peer lending, and emergency loans and other aid offered by some universities and state agencies. Reducing to part-time enrollment or transferring to a cheaper school are also last-resort options that may be better choices than taking an entire semester off or putting tuition on a credit card.
An appeal to your college's financial aid office can also produce more financial aid, especially if your financial situation has changed since you completed the FAFSA, or if your parents were turned down for a federal PLUS loan. Additional loans, and even some grant aid, may be available if you ask.
In addition to trying to find new sources of funding, some college students are also petitioning their state legislators to get grant and scholarship funding restored. Lawmakers in Utah have listened, promising to reinstate full funding to the state's New Century Scholarship program, whose awards they had previously planned to cut nearly in half. Students in Michigan also may yet get a reprieve from budget cuts, as the governor of Michigan and numerous state legislators are vowing to do what they can to keep the state's popular Promise Scholarship program intact.
Even if states manage to find funding for grants and scholarships this year, the next fiscal year could also prove challenging. Students in cash-strapped states who are planning to rely on state scholarships to pay for college may want to start looking into alternate funding now. One of the best ways to do this is to start with a free college scholarship search.
February 12, 2009
The Senate passed their version of the economic stimulus bill Tuesday, and by late afternoon yesterday it was announced that a compromise had been reached between the House and the Senate. The compromise bill includes less funding than either version--$789 billion as compared to $820 or $838 billion, and one of the areas that faced cuts was education.
While the final draft of the stimulus bill has not been released--or necessarily written--yet, some details are emerging in media coverage. It appears that a Pell Grant increase has made it into the final draft, though the exact amount is still unknown. Federal Work-Study also receives a funding boost, though it's also unclear whether it's the full $490 million appropriated by the House. The $2,500 tuition tax credit has also survived, as have several other tax credits not related to education. Proposed increases to Perkins Loans and unsubsidized Stafford Loans appear to have been axed from the conference committee's version of the bill. States will receive some money to offset educational expenses and aid in school construction and renovation, though not as much as the House had appropriated.
More details will likely emerge over the next couple days as the bill makes its way back through the House and Senate for final approval. The stimulus package could be signed by President Obama as soon as Monday. While the stimulus will provide some help to most people attending college, it's not too late to find other ways to boost the funding to your own college education. Conduct a free college scholarship search to see what financial aid is out there.
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