October 22, 2007
In recently published (previously-known) financial aid news, student lenders were found to have made millions by accepting excess subsidies from the government. By finding loopholes in government regulations, the student lender Nelnet, one of the biggest offenders, was able to collect $278 million in excess payments between 2003 and 2005. Based on calculations released by the Washington Post, other lenders accepted an estimated $300 million in excess subsidies between 2003 and 2006—paid for by taxpayers.
Because students applying for government aid are restricted in how much they can borrow, the government offers subsidies to lenders who borrow to students. In exchange for the money, lenders offer students loans at rates that, although usually higher than those offered by the government, tend to be lower than those offered by unsubsidized lenders.
When average student loan interest rates were higher, the government guaranteed lenders a 9.5 percent interest rate for loans. Once average loan rates fell, many lenders continued to take in large subsidies.
And although the government lowered some subsidy sums after rates fell, they continued to guarantee a 9.5 percent rate on loans previously funded with tax-exempt bonds. To extend the pool of loans still eligible for larger subsidies, Nelnet divided tax-free bonds among various pools. They would then claim that pools of loans at least partially composed of tax-free bonds were eligible for 9.5 percent subsidies.
The government did little to stop them in the past, and it is doing little to punish them now. According to the Washington Post, the Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings did admit that the government shouldered some of the responsibility for the “confusion”. However, she indicated no intent to pursue full accounting, nor did she suggest that reimbursement from lenders would be sought.
October 25, 2007
Based on a new report released by the College Board, government aid has increased in the past few years—but college costs have as well. And they’ve done so more quickly.
According to the report, a public four-year institution charges in-state students 6.6 percent more in tuition and fees than they did last year. The increase for out-of-state students is 5.9 percent.
Students who attend private four-year colleges haven’t fared any better. They may not have to worry about the whole in-state out-of-state thing, but their tuition rates are still higher than those at public colleges, and they are likewise increasing. Since last year, tuition and fees have increased by 6.3 percent at private four-year colleges.
Community colleges are pretty good when it comes to keeping the prices down, but their costs, as well as those of for-profit schools, have been rising as well.
Before you say it, yes, stated cost and actual cost are two different things. You don’t go into a car lot expecting to pay the ticket price, and you probably won’t pay the full price when it comes to college tuition. But that doesn’t mean that you’re being cut a deal. Even though government aid has been increasing—and will continue to do so due to the recent passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act—students are still paying more for college.
As my chemistry teacher used to repeat, “All things being equal, things aren’t going well.” (Maybe the second half was mine; it’s just what comes to mind when I think of chemistry.)
Thankfully, students don’t have to depend on the government to completely cover the cost of a college education. There are plenty of financial aid options out there, and they don’t all require interest payments. Students searching for tuition money can always look to college scholarships and grants for help. Plenty are available, and they won’t cost you a penny (don’t be scammed into believing that you should pay for scholarship consideration). Conduct a free scholarship search, and check out the numerous opportunities available to you.
October 26, 2007
A recent evaluation released by NASFAA, an organization representing the interests of financial aid professionals, brings into question the effectiveness of a new student lender auction system. The recently-passed College Cost Reduction and Access Act created, among other things, a new auction system wherein student lenders would bid on exclusive market rights in each state. While the law concentrated on cuts in student lender subsidies and increases in free student grants, the auction system aimed at lowering taxpayer burdens was also enacted.
When the system goes into effect in 2009, lenders interested in participating in the government's subsidized FFEL Plan would have to compete for the lowest subsidies. Those who won the bid would get exclusive state lender rights. Only lenders who would choose to take part in the government’s FFEL program would be effected, and only rights to PLUS loans would be auctioned.
However, the NASFAA report questions whether an auction would really be as effective as it initially seems.The statement suggested that the auction program was based on the rash assumption that lenders who bid for loan rights would be willing to greatly lower subsidy expectations, and that taxpayers would really benefit from lower subsidies. This assumption, based on the report, may prove to be faulty. State competition could be lower than expected, and some states could problematically benefit more than others. After a few years, the competition is likely to decrease altogether, and lenders may simply choose to opt out of the program.
Doubt was also cast upon the assumption that student borrowers would not be affected by the auction system. Based on the report, it is more likely that lenders will get rid of certain student benefits once they have exclusive rights to a state. Borrower services that could be affected include default prevention, financial literacy and electronic processing. The report disputes the claim that very few students are eligible for benefits. Instead, it suggests that most students qualify for at least some helpful services or benefits.
How an auction would in effect change the financial aid system and affect taxpayers remains to be seen. However, a "Bill Gates is about to take over the world" scenario is unlikely. First of all, a total overhaul is not going to occur; PLUS loans will be used to test out the system. Based on the results, a general idea of what could happen in such situations should be obtained. Secondly, the auction would repeat after two years, and it’s unlikely that lenders will get comfy enough to cause a ruckus. Because two lenders will be chosen per state, some competition is likely to keep them in line. Let us also remember that PLUS loans are not the only loans on the planet. If FFEL PLUS loans become too pricy, students could look to competing loans and lenders. FFEL program winners will still have a reputation to upkeep.
Ultimately, the government has the last word on this one. We'll see if that’s a good thing.
November 27, 2007
The government funds a number of financial aid and mentoring programs, and you are probably—no offense—unaware of most. It’s not your fault. Most students are not well-versed in matters of federal aid because they have not been informed about their options. Aside from the best-known federal grant, the Pell Grant, most students know little about available federal aid.
The TRIO program (no, this is not an acronym) is one of the lesser-known federal financial aid and counseling programs. It was created to assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as those facing circumstances that hinder their academic pursuits. The TRIO program is made up of six different student programs and a training program for TRIO program staff. It not only addresses financial obstacles caused by affording an undergraduate education but also those caused by affording graduate school.
To be considered disadvantaged, students must have an maximum annual income of $15,315 for a one-person family unit, $20,530 for a two-person family unit, $25,750 for a three-person family unit and $5,220 for each additional person. (The income cutoff is higher in Hawaii and Alaska.)
The student programs offered through TRIO include:
Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program- This program was created to increase the number of underrepresented students who obtain graduate and doctorate degrees. Eligible students who demonstrate strong academic potential are assisted in their preparation for graduate studies with counselor support, financial aid, research and internship opportunities as well as tutoring programs.
Student Support Services (SSS) Program- The SSS program assists students in meeting their basic college requirements. The goal of the program is to increase student graduation rates and the number of students who continue their education. Eligible students will receive help in securing admission and financial aid to four-year colleges and universities, personal counseling, tutoring assistance, career planning and college scholarship information.
Talent Search- Students eligible for the talent search aid are assisted in completing their high school education and attending a college or university. Eligible disadvantaged students will be offered tutoring, career search aid, college information, counseling and mentoring services.
Upward Bound- The Upward Bound program assists high school students in preparing for college. It awards aid to financially disadvantaged students, students whose parents did not obtain a bachelor’s education and low-income first-generation veterans pursing a college education. Upward Bound projects include tutoring in math, science, composition, literature and foreign languages. Students are also offering counseling, cultural enrichment programs and work-study programs.
The Upward Bound Math-Science Program- This program was created to improve the math and science skills of students and to encourage them to pursue a degree in the math and sciences. Participating students will receive aid with the help of summer programs, counseling, computer lessons and the opportunity to work with college faculty and graduate students on science research projects.
The Educational Opportunity Centers Program- The Educational Opportunity Centers Program is an assistance service for adults who need help in their pursuit of a postsecondary education. Eligible adults will receive personal counseling, information on college financial aid and tutoring aid.
November 28, 2007
Understanding college aid jargon can be tough. Learning about college requirements, school testing and financial aid applications is difficult enough. Bring snooty words and acronyms into the picture, and you’ll find yourself rereading the same sentence ten times.
To get into the college game, you have to know how to talk the talk. That’s where we come in. Scholarships.com offers you free access to a college prep and financial aid glossary that will help you decipher “advanced” school vocabulary. Before you get into the nitty gritty details of college planning, you need an overview, and we can help you with that.
Those applying for federal financial aid will need to know what a Pell grant is, how the Cost of Attendance (COA) is determined, and what the federal work study program (WSP) has to do with their student aid report (SAR). It can be a lot to handle at first, but these are words worth knowing. You are likely to come across them when applying for aid, and when you do, you’ll know what you’re dealing with.
Such knowledge is particularly important for students who apply for loans. To make the best, most affordable choices, these students will need to know the difference between Perkins loans, Stafford loans, PLUS loans and private loans. Before signing anything, it’s important to know about Annual Percentage Rates (APR), accrued interest, loan deferment, loan defaulting and consolidation. The glossary will provide quick answers to these and other financial aid questions.
By taking advantage of the resources offered at Scholarships.com, you can feel confident about your financial aid and college planning decisions. Just breathe, and take things one step at a time. Sit down at the table with your financial aid documents and a glossary. Slowly things will begin to make sense. When you think you have the basics down, you can count on Scholarships.com for more in-depth information.
November 30, 2007
During the November 28th Republican Debate, presidential candidates addressed an illegal immigration issue affecting numerous students. Currently, students who are illegal immigrants may attend college. However, many are unable to do so because financial aid, both federal and private, is not readily accessible to them. While scholarships without citizenship requirements do exist, they are not common.
The Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) states that only students who are U.S. citizens, permanent residents or eligible non-citizens are eligible to receive federal aid. To assist these students, some states have passed laws permitting illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition fees. This has caused a great deal of controversy among people who feel that illegal immigrants should not be benefiting from the tax dollars of legal citizens.
The issue is a sticky one. Some illegal immigrants do pay taxes (the IRS does not discriminate when it comes to accepting tax dollars), but that does not apply to all. Also in question is whether the U.S. should be making it difficult for those who want to go to college to do so, especially when, in the end, it can benefit the nation.
During the debate, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was criticized by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for having supported a bill that would provide merit-based aid to illegal students within the state (the bill was not passed). Romney stated that the bill was in essence supportive of using taxpayer money to assist those who had broken the law and that such money should be used to pay for scholarships available to students whose families did pay taxes.
Huckabee responded by saying that students should not be punished for the actions of their parents and that preventing students from attending college would just leave more of them on the streets. In reference to the importance of an education he stated, “ If I hadn't had the education, I wouldn't be standing on this stage." He also added, " I might be picking lettuce."
Lettuce? Nothing about his life as the son of a fireman points to lettuce picking, but the point was made. Thwarting student talents is the alternative to helping them get through school. This is especially the case when the bill in question is directed at academically accomplished students (which it is).
The debate over illegal immigration rages on without a solution in sight. In is not arguable that many students depend on financial aid to finish an education. The method for distributing this aid is.
December 7, 2007
The QuestBridge organization has been turning heads lately for its ability to match talented, underprivileged students with excellent schools across the country. It's something of a dating service for students and colleges. QuestBridge has sought after and found numerous exceptional high school students and paired them with some of the nation’s most prestigious, and expensive, colleges and universities. By participating, schools can diversify their campus, and eventually, the demographic of the nation's leading scholars. QuestBridge makes finding gifted and oftentimes overlooked teens look easy.
High school seniors who are nominated, or who nominate themselves, fill out one application that can then be sent to all participating schools. Their fee is waived, and an essay about the student's ability to overcome obstacles is also included. When selecting finalists, QuestBridge considers academics, finances, eligibility requirements and personal circumstances.
From there, applications are sent to schools which make the final decision. Accepted students are offered full four-year scholarships to attend one of the twenty participating colleges and universities. Among these are Notre Dame University, Stanford University, the University of Chicago and Amherst College. There were 103 QuestBridge students who received scholarships to leading schools last year, and the number is expected to increase this year.
Students who may not have otherwise considered expensive schools suddenly find opportunity within reach. A featured QuestBridge student who won a scholarship to Stanford stated, “I didn’t feel like I could get in to a top college. I filled out my application and lost my nerve to hit the ‘submit’ button. I will never forget receiving a call at my home from a Quest counselor, encouraging me to go ahead and apply.”
For more information about the QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship, you can conduct a free scholarship search at Scholarships.com.
December 13, 2007
Hey high school seniors (and superstar juniors), how would you like to have your school pay for your AP exams? I’m assuming there are no jeers in the crowd, at least not from students who know that College Board, the administrator of AP tests, charges students $84 for each exam.
Students lucky enough to belong to the numerous high schools in major North Virginia districts no longer have to worry about these rates. Since 1998, numerous counties in the state have been adopting the idea of helping students get an inexpensive head start on a college education. By paying for the students’ tests, these schools have been able to save students hundreds.
Those who take an AP class don’t always stop with one. Many students are taking on increasingly large loads, enrolling in two, three, four, even five college-level classes per year. There are students who begin earlier than that, building up their resume during their junior year. The money they dish out for these tests adds up. Some students take advantage of the discount prices offered to low-income students, but most can't count on them.
Many North Virginia schools take care of this problem by entirely covering the cost of the exam. The testing fee policies do vary by school, and not all students can expect the same assistance. In return for the coverage, some schools require that all students take the exams. Others do not. Some cover the whole cost, and others only pay a portion of the fee. Regardless, these schools deserve props for helping students meet their financial needs. It would be nice if the word spread to other states.
December 14, 2007
In a move that’s both impressive and grossly irritating to poor students across the nation, Harvard University announced on Tuesday its intent to improve the financial aid packages of well-off students. Of course that’s not how they announced it. According to the Harvard Crimson (the university newspaper), the Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons proudly declared that the aid would allow students to pursue careers in public service without fear of outstanding debt--as if that's the ultimate goal of most Harvard graduates.
In 2006, Harvard eliminated contribution requirements for students whose families made less than $60,000 per year. It has taken things one step further this year by increasing the amount of financial aid offered to students whose household income was greater than that. Mr. Fitzsimmons stated that families making between $60,000 and $200,000 were in a state of “crisis” when it came to finding money for college.
Hmmm…Crisis eh? That’s quite a hyperbole, especially when one considers the rising number of students who leave school with debt that exceeds $100,000. I somehow don’t feel bad for people making $200,000 each year, and I definitely don’t subscribe to the fact that they are going through a crisis. According to the 2006 U.S. Census Bureau, the median (not average) income in the U.S. is $48,201 and only 19 percent of households make over $100,000. Double that and the word crisis does not apply.
Under Harvard's new plan, families with incomes between $60,000 and $120,000 per year will soon be expected to pay 0-10 percent of their income for an education. Those making between $120,000 and $180,000 will be expected to pay 10 percent of that amount. To put things in perspective, the sticker price for the Harvard package is $45,620, and a family making $180,000 will pay 39 percent of that.
After reading the article, Harvard graduate Andrew Kalloch offered his thoughts on the news in a letter to the editors, “I wear old T-shirts, and they suit me just fine. Others wear designer clothing and there is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is asking alumni to contribute to the embarrassment of riches already bestowed upon the American upper class.”
I'm not saying we should begrudge any students their financial aid, popped collars or not. After all, low or nonexistent tuition would be a deserved dream come true for most hard working students. It's just a bit disconcerting that myriad students with incomes far below those acknowledged by Harvard are burdened by student loans, and no one is giving them a reasonable piece of the pie.
December 18, 2007
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